Tomato Lemon Rasam

This rasam has the tangy flavor profile you expect from the South Indian favorite, but gets its punchy brightness from lemon juice stirred in at the end instead of the traditional tamarind. The broth may appear to be simple, but boasts great depth of flavor from warm spices like cumin and coriander and the blend of ginger, garlic and chiles mixed in, plus the fried curry leaves, turmeric and mustard seeds. The chopped cilantro added before serving add green herbal notes, especially as they meld into the warm broth. Rasam can be served as an accompaniment to rice or dosa or eaten on its own; it's especially soothing on a chilly night or when you are feeling sick.   

Tomato Lemon Rasam
Photo: Photo by Sarah Crowder / Food Styling by Chandra Ram
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
55 mins


  • ½ cup toor dal (split yellow pigeon peas) 

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, divided

  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds

  • 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper

  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

  • 1 Serrano chile, chopped

  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

  • 15 curry leaves, torn into pieces

  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can chopped tomatoes

  • ¼ teaspoon asafoetida

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

  • ½ cup chopped cilantro


  1. Rinse pigeon peas, then place in a medium pot with 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and 1 cup water over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir, then simmer for another 10 minutes if needed, or until pigeon peas are soft.

  2. While dal cooks, combine cumin seeds, coriander seeds, pepper, ginger, chile, and garlic in a blender and blend into a thick paste. Set aside.

  3. Mash cooked pigeon peas, then scoop them out of the pot and transfer to a bowl. Wipe pot clean with a paper towel. Heat oil in pot until shimmering, about 1 minute. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and remaining 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and cook until curry leaves sizzle and mustard seeds begin to pop, about 90 seconds.

  4. Add tomatoes with their juices, ginger-garlic spice paste and asafoetida to the pot, and stir until combined. Add cooked pigeon peas, 3 cups water and salt. Stir, then simmer 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, taste for seasoning, and top with chopped cilantro.

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