Lemon Saaru

November  6, 2020
1 Ratings
Photo by Chitra Agrawal
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 2 to 3
Author Notes

Saaru is a lentil broth from South India. It is referred to as saaru in Kannada, the language spoken in Karnataka, where my mother is from. It is also called rasam, chaaru, etc., depending on which South Indian state you are in. Saaru is usually spicy and sour and can be made with a number of different souring agents such as tamarind, tomatoes, or, in this case, lemons.

You can either drink this soup straight from a cup or mug or serve it over rice for a fuller meal. This lemon saaru is particularly restorative in nature and one my mother would prepare for me when I was feeling under the weather. It’s made with aromatics like crushed black pepper, turmeric, cumin seeds, green chiles, ginger, and curry leaves, all of which complement the soup’s lemony tang. It’s so delicious that I prepare it quite often now, even when I’m feeling just fine. I love to drink it from a cup in the afternoon instead of a caffeinated beverage, and it’s a great way to warm up during the fall and winter months.

I organized this recipe just like I make it. I prepare the lentils beforehand and store them in the fridge. I sometimes make a double batch of lentils and just freeze half, too. When I’m ready to make my saaru, I quickly fry up the spices and add the dal, so it’s all done in one pot super quickly. —Chitra Agrawal

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 or 5 fresh curry leaves
  • 1-inch pieces fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 or 2 Indian green chiles, serrano chiles, or half a jalapeño, stemmed and sliced lengthwise down the middle
  • 1 tablespoon ghee, unsalted butter, or neutral oil with a high smoke point (such as sunflower)
  • 1⁄2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1⁄4 teaspoons crushed black peppercorns
  • Pinch of asafetida (hing) powder
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish
  1. Wash the red lentils thoroughly in a fine-mesh colander.
  2. Add the lentils to a saucepan with 3 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stay by the stove and monitor the foaming, as your pot could quickly boil over if you are not watching. Skim off the foam.
  3. When the foaming has subsided, add in the turmeric, curry leaves, ginger, and chiles. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the lentils are done, about 25 minutes.
  4. Season with salt to taste and optionally mash the lentils with a spoon. Store the lentils in the fridge.
  5. Put the ghee in a saucepan over medium heat and add one cumin seed. When the seed sizzles, add the rest of the cumin seeds along with the peppercorns and asafetida. When the cumin seeds start to turn a darker shade of brown (a few more seconds), turn off the heat.
  6. Add the cooked dal to the saucepan and enough water (start with 1 cup) to get to the consistency of a soup. Traditionally, this recipe has a thin broth on top with the cooked dal resting on the bottom of the pot.
  7. Mix in the lemon juice and adjust the lemon juice and salt as needed. Garnish with cilantro before serving.
  8. When reheating the saaru, you may have to add a bit of water, as it has a tendency to thicken up in the fridge.
  9. You can drink the saaru from a mug as a beverage or serve over rice for a heartier meal. When eating it as a meal, I like to top mine with a little plain yogurt and Brooklyn Delhi tomato or roasted garlic achaar.

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Specialize in Indian recipes using local ingredients. I'm the owner of Brooklyn Delhi and author of Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn (Penguin Random House).

1 Review

Melissa November 10, 2020
Love Chitra’s recipes! This one is even easier than her huggi recipe. I had to use makrut lime leaves in place of the curry leaves, but other than that I made it exactly as written and it was absolutely perfect on a cold autumn day. It’s both bright and fresh and warm and comforting.

The recipe was plenty for 3 people, but I will definitely double it or triple it next time for leftovers.