One of the famous dishes in Tamil Brahmin’s home of yesteryears was the ‘Eeya Sombu Rasam’. Sombu means vessel and Eeyam is a metal coating. So it is essentially a cooking vessel with a special metal coating.
I say yesteryears because the practice of making rasam in an Eeya Sombu is no longer prevalent in most households, thanks to the biased approach of questioning anything ancient that has no proper explanation available! Sad indeed! Because this is one dish that is so tasty that it is to be devoured to be believed.
Perhaps this is one of the few dishes where the vessel used in cooking lends its name to the dish. There is nothing special about the making of this rasam – ingredient or method wise. In fact any type of rasam can be made in an Eeya Sombu. It is the metal components of the vessel itself that enhances the taste and attributes a unique flavor to this dish.
‘Eeyam Poosardhu’ in tamil or ‘ Application of Eeyam – a metal Coating’ when literally translated was a well known process in olden days when copper vessels used to be coated with Eeyam. This was done by street vendors who made a living out of this, who used to call out loudly as they passed from one street to another. With the advent of stainless steel vessels and modern cooking applications this tribe slowly disappeared. Every household used to be in possession of at least a couple of Eeya Sombu which was passed down to the next generation almost like a heirloom. And every brahmin household would have a story or two about a Sombu that disappeared after it was left forgotten on the stove and landed up as a molten coating on the burner. Yes….this vessel was notorious for its low melting point and hence was at the receiving end of absent minded homemakers.
Now what exactly is an Eeya Sombu about which so much is spoken about? And what makes the rasam so divine and delicious? This is a raging controversy that has still not been put to rest. The alarm raised by one set of believers that Eeya Sombu was essentially made out of Lead and hence would lead to Led Poisoning raised all hell and made many to discontinue cooking in it. That however is not true.
Eeya Sombu is actually made of an alloy of tin and other metals and NOT Lead as is wont to be believed by a few. Lead is referred to as Kaareeyam and Tin as Velleeyam. Eeya Sombu is made of the latter. This is amply evident by the fact that our older generations had consumed this rasam for several years and remained healthy for long. Had it been a case of Led Poisoning this certainly would not have been possible.So if anything it is only said to provide health benefits, when consumed in the right quantity, that help the neuro responses of the human brain.
Of course one has to guard against spurious manufacturers and buy it from authentic places. Because an Eeya Sombu that weighs approximately 500gms costs close to Rs.1300/- . Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu is said to be famous for these Sombus. For those who have had Eeya Sombu Rasam any other would never be palatable. Even in weddings caterers are known to drop a small Eeya Sombu into the rasam [ since it is not practically possible to get such a huge Sombu ] after it is prepared to lend that extra flavor. If some of you are still in doubt about using a sombu, you can prepare the rasam and then transfer it on to an Eeya Sombu and then serve.
While using Eeya Sombu one has to ensure that there is enough liquid in the vessel.
Always cook in low flame.
Never move too far away from the kitchen when the rasam is being made. For if you do, you may neither find the rasam nor the sombu.
Sandwiches are easy to make and offer great scope for variety and improvisation in terms of flavor, fillings, taste and cooking methods. Here are a few tips that might come in handy to make better sandwiches.
Always use fresh bread. Never compromise on quality. For fancy sandwiches it is better if the bread is a day old or refrigerated for a few hours. Ensure the slices are thinly cut.
Experiment using variety of breads – Milk / Wheat / Fruit Loaves / Brown & Whole Wheat Bread.
Always ensure that the butter is at room temperature. It helps in spreading evenly. You can also mix it in a small bowl before spreading it on the slice.
If the crusts / edges are too thick or crisp cut them out.
Always cut finished sandwiches with a sharp or serrated knife.
Ensure butter , mayonnaise and other fillings are spread till the edges.
When you are making multi – layered sandwiches hold them in place by means of tooth picks or skewers.
When a variety of sandwiches are being made wrap them separately in aluminium foil to avoid mixing up aromas and flavours.
Fold the foil or wax paper well at the edges to keep them fresh and nice.
Steaming is perhaps the oldest form of cooking – even before the cave man discovered fire. It is said that food was softened over hot springs or stones in ancient times. Steaming is a moist method of cooking that combines hot air and moisture to soften and cook ingredients.
Steaming is a preferred method of cooking for the simple reason that it retains the nutrient factors when compared to other forms like baking or frying, retaining color, flavor as well as texture. Research has established that steamed food only showed a loss of 40% vitamins in vegetables compared to 70% that is lost when the same is boiled. All the essential goodness is retained and there is lesser requirement for fat too. Food is not exposed to intense heat as in other methods.
To get the optimum results while steaming: Choose ingredients and ensure that they are of good quality and not rotten or stale. The reason for this is steaming enhances flavors and any ‘unwanted’ aroma or flavor will only get accentuated.
Ensure that you have proper gadgets for steaming and the appliances are in order. If steam escapes or the lids are not proper it will delay the cooking as well as prove uneconomical
Make sure that the vessel containing the ingredients is placed well above the water and there is no chance of the outer liquid entering the substance.
While dicing vegetables or meat or poultry ensure that they are of the same size so that they are evenly cooked in the specified time
Ensure water levels are adequate to complete cooking.
If you are cooking more than one item in a steamer make sure there is some space between containers to allow circulation of steam to ensure faster cooking
To save on fuel bring all frozen foods to room temperature before steam cooking.
Place juicy foods in the bottom so that they don’t drip liquids and spread their flavor on to other foods
Words will not suffice to extol the goodness and benefits of Turmeric. Apart from being a staple ingredient in Indian cooking, it is perhaps one of the earliest known herbal remedies with records dating back its existence to as early as 600BC.
Curcumin found in the root of the turmeric is said to have amazing healing qualities. Apart from adding color and flavor to food, turmeric acts as an antiseptic and it perhaps knows its powers that Indians have made it an integral part of their everyday cooking.
Turmeric soothes the liver and cures indigestion.
Lowers Cholesterol and is an effective antibiotic.
Cures irritable bowel syndrome and is best recommended to get rid of hang over.
Blood is purified with the intake of juice of raw turmeric
Turmeric has great cosmetic value. Regular use is said to make skin, soft, smooth and fair and reduce the growth of facial hair.
The presence of turmeric plants around the house is said to ward of snakes and leaves of turmeric plant are said to be good mosquito repellants.
Spicy Turmeric Milk
An ideal concoction to relieve cold, cough and chest congestion. Best had before going to bed at night.
Method: Mix all ingredients and heat milk on low flame till it is very hot. Stir well and have it as hot as you can. Add ½ tsp of sugar for children who may fuss a bit to have the turmeric milk as it is.
Melted Jaggery – 1 cup Rice Flour – 2 tlbs Ragi (Millet) Flour – as required Grated Coconut – 1 tlbs Elaichi Powder – 1/2 tsp (Cardamon Powder) Ghee or Oil as required
Mix rice flour, grated coconut and elaichi powder to the melted and strained jaggery and mix well.
Add required amount of Ragi flour to get a batter of dosa consistency. Ensure there are no lumps.
Heat a tava (Heating Plate) and pour a ladle full of the batter and spread it in the shape of dosa.
Pour melted ghee (clarified Butter) or oil along the edges and cook on medium flame till both sides are well cooked.
This can be served with a spoon of melted ghee spread on the dosa.
Tips: When melting Jaggery ensure that the liquid does not boil for too long and make the syrup too thick. If the syrup is thick then the batter will stick to the tava and will not spread evenly. For those of you who love the taste of jackfruit, very finely chopped pieces of the fruit can be added to the batter to give a different flavor. But remember to chop the fruit very finely.
Think Madras and you can’t help but think of Carnatic music and Kanjivaram sarees; Temples and Malli poo; hot Idlis and Filter Kaapi. The city that has transformed over the years – right from its name, now Chennai – to keep up with its more ‘Modern & Hep’ counterparts across the country, still retains its affiliation to tradition and culture. This is why it is still considered to be safe, cautious & balanced in its approach to and acceptance of western influences.
In terms of cuisine The Madaras Kafe, a new restaurant, is a perfect reflection of this mixed culture the city sports. Situated in the basement of the plush up market mall, Ispahani center, Idli Sambar gives way to newer versions – Fried Podi Idli [ mini idlis fried in oil and tossed in ‘Molaga Podi’ ] Gummang kuthu Idli [ mini idlis mixed in a spicy paste of tomato and onions] and more such remixed versions.
The menu has something for all. The ‘Urulai kucchi chips’ [French fries] for the light snacker; a smattering of milk shakes and sandwiches for a casual snack; the desi version of pizzas with Manchurian and pannier fillings for a feel good lunch.
For those with a sweet tooth you can choose between brownies with sauces or the traditional sweets like boli that are imaginatively and cleverly named to tempt you to try them.
The highlight perhaps is the filter Kaapi and the variety of ‘Chai’s they serve in traditional ‘dabara tumblers’. Be it the Masala Chai or the Inji Chai or the Masala milk the taste is excellent.
If you want to meet a friend and chit chat for a bit while you snack away in a quiet and nice ambiance The Madaras Kafe is the place for you.