Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Veppampoo (Neem Flower) Rasam

Vembu is Neem in Tamil. Veppampoo is the flower of the neem tree. Every part of the neem tree is considered to be of medicinal value, let alone the flower. There are several anecdotes which say chewing a neem leaf every day cures diabetes. Back home, I've also seen people suffering from diabetes swallow the freshly ground paste of neem leaves. As much as it is full of medicinal value, every part of the neem tree is equally bitter. You can smell the bitterness I would say :-). I think that is the reason why there is a practice of using sundried veppampoo in cooking. This rasam does not taste bitter and has a unique flavor and taste, which even my roommate liked the very first time and now we make this rasam quite often. Also, a dish called veppampoo pachchadi, made from FRESH veppampoo, is always in the menu for Tamil New Year to signify and accept life's bitter side. Below is a picture of dry veppampoo for your reference.

Ingredients (about 3 - 4 servings):

Tamarind soaked in water - about the size of a small lemon
(If using tamarind paste, about 3/4 teaspoon of it)
Asafoetida - 1/2 teaspoon
Salt to taste

For seasoning:

I use two separate set of seasonings for this rasam, one that I add while the rasam is under its way and the other one at the very end.

1st set:

Cooking oil - 1 teaspoon
Mustard seeds - 1 teaspoon
Green chillies - 2 to 3 cut into small pieces

2nd set:

Cooking oil - 2 teaspoons
Veppampoo (sun dried) - 2 to 3 tablespoons
Cilantro - a few strands broken by hand


1. Extract about 3 cups (using a measuring cup) of the juice of tamarind water in a deep vessel or dilute the tamarind paste with 3 cups of water and set aside.
2. In a small pan, heat 1 teaspoon of cooking oil, add mustard seeds and wait for them to splutter. Add the green chillies after the mustard splutters and set aside.
3. In the same pan used in step 2, heat about 2 teaspoons of cooking oil and fry the veppam poo until it turns dark golden brown (but not burnt) in color and set aside.
4. Add asafoetida, salt and the seasoning from step 2 to the tamarind water from step 1 and boil it on medium heat for 10 -15 minutes, until the raw smell of tamarind goes away and turn off the stove.
5. Mix the fried veppampoo from step 3 with the rasam and garnish with cilantro.

If your stomach is upset for some reason, you can simply fry a couple of tablespoons of sundried veppampoo in about a teaspoon of cooking oil, mix it with cooked rice along with little salt and have it for a couple of days. You will notice the difference for yourself :-).

Like I said before, this rasam has a very unique flavor to it and goes well with rice. I won't say that everyone will equally like it the very first time they try this rasam, but it is definitely worth a shot :-).

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