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So I’ve come down with whatever it is that’s going around (again). But this time, it’s personal. I’m attacking the virus from all fronts – drinking plenty of tea, aggressive sleeping, and, of course, enjoying some healing foods. For me, that means chaaru (Telugu) or rasam (Tamil).

Charu with rice

Chaaru with rice

In many south Indian families, chaaru is a regular part of the evening meal, but my family tended to think of it only when one of us got sniffly. You can load it up with garlic and spices to clear up your sinuses, and it tastes so good that you’ll want to enjoy it in times of health as well! I like my chaaru a bit thicker than some; add less of the cooked yellow split peas if you want it thinner. Here’s what you’ll need:

1/2 cup yellow split peas (kandipappu in Telugu, toor dal in Hindi)
3 cups water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 curry leaves (if you have them)
3 large tomatoes, cut into large pieces
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne (more if you want!)
1/8 tsp turmeric
2 tsp tamarind paste OR the juice of one lemon
1 cup water
2 tsp salt
handful of cilantro leaves

In a small saucepan, dry-toast the yellow split peas over medium-high heat until you can smell them, stirring constantly. Add water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover until very soft, about 45 minutes. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil on medium-high and sprinkle mustard seeds uniformly over the bottom of the pan.

Mustard seeds and cumin frying

Mustard seeds, curry leaves and cumin frying

Cover the pan and listen for the moment when the sound of popping slows down, then add the cumin seeds and curry leaves (if using)and remove from heat. Add tomatoes, garlic, cumin, black pepper, cayenne, and turmeric.

Tomatoes, garlic and spices added

Tomatoes, garlic and spices added

Return to medium-low heat, cover, and cook until tomatoes are soft.

Tomatoes after cooking

Tomatoes after cooking

Add tamarind (or lemon juice), water, salt and cooked yellow split peas. Simmer for another 5 minutes and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with about 1/4 cup cooked rice per person. Makes 4-6 servings.