Eeya Sombu Rasam

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.

Remember…..
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.

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Steamed Nonbu Adai – Sweet & Savory.

Kaaradaiyaan Nonbu, is a very special function observed by people in the Southern states. This Nonbu or Savithri vrat is observed during the last day of the Tamil month of Maasi and the beginning of the month of Panguni. The Nonbu is observed by all unmarried and married women and celebrates the victory of Savithri, a mythical character, in bringing back her husband Sathyavan to life from the jaws of death [from Yama], the Undertaker of the Hindu Religion. The married women pray for the longevity of their husband and the unmarried girls pray in order to get an ideal husband. Sweet adais are offered as prasadam, considered offering of God, during the pooja.

Sweet Adai

Rice flour – 1 cup
Jaggery syrup – 1 ¼ cup
Karamani [dried cowpeas] – 1 tlbs
Grated or finely chopped coconut – ½ cup
Elaichi Powder – 1 tsp
Ghee – 1 or 2 tlbs>/span>

Preparation:
Soak the dried karamani (Snake bean or Chinese Long Bean) for 5 to 6 hours and cook and keep aside.

Method:
Roast the rice flour well in a dry kadai till it gives out a good smell. However do not roast till it turns red. Remove from Kadai (heating Pan).

Pour jaggery syrup and bring it to a boil. Reduce flame and add rice flour to the syrup and mix well.

Add karamani, grated coconut, 1 tlbs of ghee (Clarified Butter) and cardamom powder and blend well till a nice thick paste is formed.

Take it off the heat and allow to cool.

Grease your palm with ghee or use a small plantain leaf. Roll the dough into balls and flatten them to about ¼ inch thickness. Make a small hole in the centre to allow it to cook evenly.

Grease idly plates and steam the adais till done [roughly 8 to 10 mins].

Serve with a fresh blob of butter.

Tips:
Amount of jaggery used will depend on the sweetness and quality of the jaggery. So pay attention.
If the adais are undercooked or have too much jaggery then they tend to be sticky in the mouth. If overcooked they will become hard

By Mrs. Mira Balachandran; ; mira.balachandran@gmail.com