Russum (Rassem) was Amma’s remedy for the common cold. This pungent brew of roasted spice (cumin, pepper corns, dry chillies and garlic) simmered in tamarind infused water somehow soothed the aching discomfort of a blocked nose and sore throat. Not that we enjoyed being sick … but my sisters and I did look forward to Amma’s Russum! A visit to the doctor back then was considered a costly and timely exercise. In the event of any of my siblings and I taking ill - the recovery procedure according to our father was simple! - plenty of bed rest – fill a piece of clothe with a few pieces of camphor pinned to your clothes (sniff at will) to help relive a blocked nose or apply Vicks Vapour Rub on the upper lip, chest and back. Third - drink Amma’s Russum. If these steps did not alleviate the symptoms of a cold then one was considered ‘really sick’ - that meant a visit to the doctor and a compulsory injection!

It may just have been more than the placebo effect that makes Russum relieve symptoms of a cold. Key ingredients like tamarind, cumin, pepper corns and garlic have long been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. (1)

[1] No ingredient or product mentioned on this article is meant to diagnose, treat or replace professional medical advice. These are personal thoughts and memories of my mother through her love of cooking.  

Russum Recipe

Recipe by Georgia
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: 400ml

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 40 grams tamarind (puli). (I used fresh tamarind not tamarind concentrate)
  • 100ml water to dilute the tamarind
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper corns
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  •  ½ teaspoon mustard seeds  
  •   1 medium sized  dried chilli or ½ teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a pinch of turmeric powder
  • half teaspoon salt
  • 1 litre water
  • ¼ onion sliced fine
Cooking Directions

1. Place the tamarind in the 100ml water. Set aside.

2. Roast the garlic (in its covering), chillies, and pepper , cumin and mustard seeds on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove from stove then crush using a mortar and pestle. ..just enough to crack open the whole spices. Crush the garlic separately or or chop into chunky pieces if you prefer.

3. Heat the oil on medium heat then add the finely sliced onions. Braise for 2-3 minutes until the onions soften. Add the crushed spice mixture, garlic and the turmeric. Stir. Allow to braise for 2-3 minutes.
4. Remove the seeds and excess pulp from the tamarind solution then add the tamarind water to the spice mixture. Stir.

5. Add the rest of the water (1litre). Stir. Allow to boil for 10 minutes. Remove from stove. Serve warm.

6. Russum is best consumed warm. The crushed spices will sink to the bottom when boiled. You can strain Russum or consume with the spices and onion.
Russum and a Cherry Blossom for my sister J
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