Of simple meals and a simple recipe

For a long time now, I have tried to grasp the meaning of simple food. You see this plate here ? Rice, tomato rasam, a roast pappad, some palya which by the way is what I made of some of those gorgeous runner beans that our neighbours gave us – this meal is my meal, it is the kind of meal I grew up eating and it was a full meal. I don’t ever remember thinking of this as a simple meal as much as I thought of it as a staple. On the other hand, simple has a sort of a happy connotation to it too bringing up associations with what we now deem to be simpler times. Is today a simpler time of tomorrow? Which kind of leaves me in a dilemna – all the subjectivity around simple apart, what is a simple meal to me, today? Is it my everyday meal? Or a meal that comes together simply? Perhaps a meal with few easily available ingredients? Or is it a meal one can make sustainably, consistently? 

But here is what I chose to do as this plate stared at me – dive into my rasam rice with gusto. It did not answer my question. But when the smell of the ghee tempering invades your kitchen, it is best to keep matters simple and enjoy the meal. Simply put, it is as simple as that.
But I’d love to know – what is a simple meal to you? Can you define it?

If you are curious, here is how I made this meal.

Runner beans Palya

Our lovely neighbours Da and Ce gave us some of the best runner beans we have had – tender, crisp and absolutely delicious with all the added happiness of having been grown with tonnes of love. Have you even seen the smile that lights up Da’s face as he talks about his love for runner beans?

You need:
Runner beans – about 300-400 gm
Fresh/ desiccate coconut (fresh is amazing, I used desiccate as that is what I had) – 2 table spoons (or to your liking)
Tempering ingredients: 1 tablespoon oil (sunflower or coconut), 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 tsp cumin, a pinch of asafoetida, a couple of dried red chillies torn into rough bits, half a tsp of methi/ fenugreek seeds, 1 tsp urad dal/ channa dal or a mix of both, curry leaves.
Turmeric – a pinch.
Salt to taste

Method:
1. Chop the runner beans small.
2. Take a wok/ kaDai and bring to heat. Meanwhile keep the tempering ingredients ready.
3. Once hot, add a tablespoon of oil (I used sunflower but coconut oil works great too!) add the mustard, cumin, fenugreek and let them splutter, add the chillies, asafoetida and the curry leaves and sauce for 5-10 seconds. You don’t want to burn them 🙂
4. Add the chopped runner beans, turmeric and give it a good toss, add a bit of salt (to hasten cooking and for the beans to get some of it in) and sprinkle some water, give it a mix and cook on medium heat. You can cook this covered too but just keep checking in between.
5. Once the beans has cooked to a bite (we definitely don’t need them to become mushy!), adjust salt to taste, add the coconut and mix well. Turn off the heat. Your palya is ready!


Quick Tomato Rasam

This has to be one of the easiest ways to make a quick rasam. Ofcourse, this calls for having rasam powder or sambhar powder at hand but it comes together so quickly, so I highly urge you to have some in your pantry. I use the one that ma makes and gives me every time I visit her but you can always use good quality commercially available ones from MTR or GRB or a brand you like. Ofcourse one can go on about the joy of using a powder that is handmade but some of the commercial mixes are not that bad and while it may make a difference in the taste, I still believe that a rasam made with a good quality store-bought rasam mix can still be comforting 🙂 I will never forget the copious amounts of rasam we had during the brief but heavy snowfall that 2020 brought with it here in Surrey. See for yourself.

You need:
Tomatoes (preferably sour): 300-400 gms chopped into small chunks
Tamarind paste or tamarind water from pulp (skip if your tomatoes are super sour, mine were not so I used tamarind for tanginess): to your preference. I used 2-3 tsp of paste, we do like it quite tangy.
Tempering ingredients: 2 tablespoons ghee, 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 tsp cumin, a pinch of asafoetida, a couple of dried red chillies torn into rough bits, curry leaves torn.
Corriander leaves torn to small bits – to your preference but highly recommend keeping the stalks.
Rasam powder/ molaga poDi/ sambhar poDi – 2 tablespoons (this depends on how spicy you want it to be and the powder you are using ofcourse, use your discretion :))
Salt to taste
Water – 2 cups

Method:
1. Heat a deep bottomed vessel.
2. We start with the tempering so add ghee, let it melt and heat up. Then, add mustard, cumin and once they have spluttered, add the torn red chillies, asafoetida and curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds.
3. Now add the tomatoes and sauce for 3-4 minutes. Let us become slightly soft but not too mushy.
4. Now, add water, tamarind paste and mix well. Bring this to a rolling boil. Once the tomatoes get cooked and the raw smell of the tamarind paste is no longer present, then add the rasam powder/ molaga poDi/ sambhar poDi and keep on boil for 3-4 minutes.
5. Now, add salt to taste and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
6. Finally, add the torn coriander leaves and stalk, mix well and bring off heat. Your rasam is ready!

Dig in 🙂

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