Every Autumn, once the temperature drops, we turn the clocks back, and the sky begins to darken around 4pm, I rediscover the beauty of homemade soups and stews. This year I’ve had a less-than-pleasant reminder — I tried to outrun it, but got hit hard by a nasty head cold, sore throat, and nasal congestion. I’m in ear-nose-and throat hell! With random people sneezing and coughing on the bus and subway, it’s no wonder. Was bound to happen. When I started feeling under the weather a few days ago, my friend Yasmina kindly made me a big batch of her hearty Italian tomato, fennel and bread soup called Pappa al Pomodoro. Sean and I ate through it like fiends, and once the soup pot was empty, and I got progressively sicker despite the copious amounts of Vick’s Vapor Rub and German chamomile tea, I realized I needed to make another batch of something homemade like that. Solution? South Indian-style Tomato Rice Soup. Even if you’re not sick, it’s a unique sweet, spicy, garlicky, peppery soup that will warm you up from the inside out on a cold day.
You probably have your favorite go-to home remedies when you get sick; homemade chicken noodle soup for some, hot toddies for others. For me, it’s definitely soup, especially this South Indian-style Tomato Rice Soup that’s full of garlic, black pepper, red chilli flakes and brown sugar. It’s the hallmark of Ayurvedic flavors that are meant to heal and balance one’s health and body — sweet, spicy, sour, salty, pungent, and astringent all at once. This particular brew is off-the-charts satisfying, and with enough garlic, will do battle with any vicious viral infection, even a vampire if necessary. I’ve modeled the recipe after an authentic South Indian hot soup called “tomato garlic saaru” or “rasam” that my mom makes, which traditionally features tamarind as the base of the broth. Whenever she ran out of tamarind, mom used V8 juice or tomato juice as the base instead, and served it over steamed basmati rice, taking the idea of ‘tomato rice soup’ to a whole new level. The original recipe calls for ingredients like kari patha (fresh curry leaves) and asafetida (the resin of an herb native to India and Afghanistan), which you would need to get from a specialty Indian grocery store. To make things easier, I’ve modified the recipe so you can make it using ingredients you can find at your local grocery store.
South Indian-style Tomato Rice Soup
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds (if you can’t find black mustard seeds, look for yellow mustard seeds by major brands like McCormick)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon red chilli flakes
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 10 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced (when Sean and I are really sick I put in 20 cloves of garlic. I’m not kidding. A better remedy than Nyquil, I tell you)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground onion powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 5 cups V8 vegetable juice, low-sodium variety (get a 46 oz size bottle of V8; if you can’t find V8 you can use plain tomato juice or vegetable cocktail instead)
- 1/3 cup uncooked white basmati rice
- 2.5 tablespoons brown sugar
- Sour cream, for garnish
- In a deep saucepan over a medium flame, heat canola oil and black mustard seeds together. Cover tightly with a lid and be sure to listen. The mustard seeds will start popping. It will sound like tiny bits of popcorn popping. Leave the lid closed, don’t touch it. This is part of an Indian cooking technique that’s called ‘tempering’ which involves heating whole spices and herbs in oil. Once you hear the popping has stopped, remove the saucepan from the flame — just hold it off to the side or shift it to the other burner — add the cumin seeds and red chilli flakes, which will sizzle in the hot oil immediately. Add onion and garlic and return to the burner, lowering the flame to medium-low and sautéing until the onions are glassy and the garlic is tender, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add the ground onion powder, salt, and ground black pepper. Mix well so the onion-garlic mixture is well-coated with all the whole and ground spices. Saute for 1 minute. Add the V8 juice, uncooked basmati rice, and brown sugar. Mix well to combine. Cover and increase the heat to bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer with the lid closed for 15-20 minutes until the rice is cooked and tender.
- After 20 minutes, taste the soup and adjust for salt, sugar, red chilli flakes, and black pepper according to your preference (I find that it depends on the vegetable/tomato juice you use, some brands are more sour than others).
- Serve immediately with a big dollop of sour cream. Sean likes to stir the sour cream into the soup right in his bowl.