Ancient Spices -Black Pepper



This picture was taken during my last visit to Kerala. Not the best picture but good enough to appreciate the lovely beaded pepper. What made me bring this picture out is the ‘ The Spice is Right’ food event, hosted by Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries. Black pepper needs no introduction. Well known, well loved, black pepper is a regular item in every pantry.

Black pepper is grown as a cash crop in Kerala, my homestate. This was a major source of income for most Kerala farmers. Nowadays, due to the high costs of farming,people have turned to other economical crops or totally given up farming. When my grandfather was alive, he used to be incharge of these peppers that would spread like a vine onto trees..almost everytree in the plot had a blackpepper vine hugging it. When they flower and bear fruit, they are the most beautiful things to look at..perfect round globes arranged in perfect symmetry around one long spike. When they ripen, they assume a shade of red. The person who plucks these peppers are a sight to watch. They carry long ladders made of bamboo and have a sack around their waist to collect the peppers. I was allowed to pluck the peppers from the lower parts of the plants and that is the way I used to collect my pocket money during my vacation.

Once they are collected, they are made to seperate from the small twig that bears them by crushing them under the feet. I used ‘crushing’ for lack of a better term. They are king of churned slowly under your feet and they seperate from the spike to which they are attached. I think we wilt them under the sun before this process so that the skin doesn’t get damaged. Then they are dried under the sun, where they get the black look and hence the term ‘black pepper’. It is amazing how much less these dried ones weigh compared to the freshpicked berries. If you pluck a whole sack of these, once dried and when ready to use they might yield, maybe a quarter of their original weight. I used to be so dismayed at this when I was a kid and felt so cheated. Once they are dried, they are tied in sacks and kept away for future use. Noone I knew ever bouught black pepper in stores, they were always stored in the dark store room and when relatives visited from other states, they always left with a big bag of these.

For more on black pepper , click here

Now for a recipe that highlights pepper, the first thing that comes to my mind is a garlic and pepper rasam that I had at my brother-in-law’s home. I made a quick call to my sister but couldnt get through to her. I have made rasam only one time before and so I had to look up a recipe somewhere, and I found one in this book. The book had a black pepper rasam with tamarind which I followed closely. I added some garlic to this recipe and it was very close to the one I tasted at my brother-in-laws house.


1 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp whole black pepper

3/4 tablespoons urad dal

2whole dried red chiles

1 tbsp veg oil

Add the oil to a hot pan and add the above ingredients to the oil. The mustard seeds will splutter and the cumin and urad dal starts turning brown. Be ready to be bowled over by the fragrance of the spices roasting in the oil. Keep a close eye on them and remove when they start turning brown, maybe a min or so.

Let it cool to room temp. and grind them using a mortar and pestle. ( The original recipe suggests grinding it to a powder) I just ground them coarsely.


Step two: Making tamarind extract

Take a small size piece of tamarind and place it in a bowl of warm water. Use your hands to extract the juice from the tamarind. It yields a browncolored liquid. This is the tamarind water that lends the sour taste to the rasam.

( Alternatively use a tsp of tamarind concentrate)

Final assembly

Oil 1/2 tablespoon

Mustard seeds 1/2 tablespoon

Garlic cloves 2 crushed

Curry leaves 3 or 4

Coriander leaves to garnish

Salt to taste

To a saucepan over medium heat, add oil and add mustard seeds to the hot oil. When the mustard seeds splutter, add the garlic cloves and curry leaves. When the garlic starts turning brown, add the tamarind extract and about 2 cups water. Add the spice mixture, salt and bring to boil. Let it simmer for few min (3 to 5) and serve with rice. In some restaurants, they serve this as a soup or first course. You can add more water if you like a more watery rasam.


This turned out really well..much better than my rasam that I had made earlier. Looks like this is going to be a well loved dish at my house, considering that I had two helpings of rice just to enjoy the rasam.

24 responses »

  1. Hi, we prepare this pepper rasam often, call it as “miriyalu chaaru”. It’s very good when one is having cold….
    nice recipe, the only difference is we don’t use urad dal, but will also include karipatta and garlic including the rest of the ingredients.

  2. Lakshmi..this was one of the tastiest rasam I ever had. I am not a great fan of the tomato rasams, but this one was my type. I have some more saved in the refrigerator, and I am looking forward to lunch today.

  3. Hi gini,
    Ur pepper rasam looks good even I do it but ur version little different ur has urad dhal. My kids call this dish hot pepper soup and drink like soup when ever they have cold.

  4. My Father-in-law is in wholesale coconut business and he often travels to Kerala and TN for bulk purchases. Whenever he visits Kerala, he buys the black pepper for home use. Back at home, our folks treat this black pepper like a special ingredient, because Kerala black pepper has more punch and strong flavor.
    Your rasam looks very tasty, Gini. As other commentators mentioned, we call it “miriyala” rasam in Telugu, often drink it like soup.
    Great entry for this event.

  5. Tanuja..adding urad dal in rasam in new for me too.

    Indira, Kerala pepper surely has more punch. When I first came here, I didnt bring any pepper with me and boy did I miss them. I was totally surprised at how much I loved this rasam. I am glad I made it.

  6. Hi gini,
    I like this rasam very much.But in my house my mom will do like u.Adding toordal , tomato is called “pappu charu”.we will take night times in winter.
    Nice recipe for this event.

  7. very nice gini. I bought some malabar pepper for the first time and was amazed at how pungent it is compared to other varieties!

    Rasam is the perfect dish to bring out the pepper flavor.


        Thanks SH… The Kerala pepper is perfect for those fiery dishes.

  8. hi,
    i am a regular reader of your blog , i am a very new blogger myself and i enjoy the warmth and the way you write .
    i am reading your back dated posts too.
    will write to you later after reading all your posts.

        Well..thank you 

  9. Pingback: Tigers & Strawberries » The Spice Is Right: Ancient Spices Round-Up Part III

  10. Hey Gini:

    WOW. Came here from Indira's site. What a wonderful post about black pepper. I had never seen a black pepper tree before!

        Luv2cook,It is not really a is a vine that grows on a tree.  

  11. Hi Gini

    When Barbara mentioned you were from Kerala I knew I had to visit–my family is from there as well. I love rasam. Actually, I could use some right now to battle this cold.

    Great recipe and great photos.

    Thanks for visiting, Jasmine. I am kind of a cardamom addict too. Hope you feel better soon.


  12. fiery pepper in rasam, with stories from homeland- amusing post, Gini:)

    Thank you Reshma..I had fun writing it too.. It went really long, because I was carried away by all the wonderful memories.

  13. Hi Gini
    Your exclusive fotos are amazing. Rare to find. Especially this pepper and the vanilla bean – really really cool.
    I am tagging you in my blog. Let me know if its ok by you –

    Thank you Revathi for all your kind comments. Of course, it is okay to link me.  And those posts were some of my favorite posts too…

  14. Hey Gini,
    Stumbled upon your blog as I was searching recipe for pepper rasam. I wanted a different version ….and yummy, the rasam tastes delicious. We love garlic and the addition of it makes the rasam even more pungent and tasty. Thanks for the wonderful recipe, will add it as a favorite. Do visit my blog and check out some of my recipes too.

  15. hi….

    the tasteist rasam i have ever had… my husband had cold n he liked it like anything… thanks for the very nice recipe……….

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