Cooling agents for summer

Sudha Menon | Updated on June 04, 2020 Published on June 04, 2020

Sips of summer: The wine-hued kokum or aamsul sherbet   -  ISTOCK.COM

Stay hydrated and happy with a range of summer drinks from kitchens across India

Come summer, and I picture tall glasses of soothing and cooling drinks — of various hues, and made with all kinds of ingredients — that people across India rustle up to stay hydrated, nourished and happy.

I remember summer vacations at our ancestral home in Eramangalam, Kerala, where we, as kids, would spend all day perched precariously on the branches of mango trees, eating raw mangoes with rock salt, playing hopscotch and making sand castles. And even though the house was in the middle of mango orchards and coconut groves, it was sultry and humid because it was not far from the sea.

Ammamma — my grandma — had the ultimate magic potion for heat-induced lethargy: A huge pot of buttermilk into which went fresh curry leaves and tender leaves from a lemon tree in the backyard. She would briskly crush them between her palms till the fragrance and essential oils were released, and toss them into the pot along with coarse salt and crushed green chillies. Everyone got a steel tumblerful to drink, but I must admit I much preferred a helping of the garish orange-coloured squash that she hoarded for visitors.

Years later, I came to appreciate the nourishing properties of Ammamma’s buttermilk and I discovered other variants of it. A Gujarati friend adds a paste of roasted cumin seeds, ginger, green chillies, coriander and mint leaves to the buttermilk and leaves it in the fridge to cool before serving it. Some add a dash of the pink Himalayan salt, also called sanchal, while others prefer to add chaat masala to give some zing to the chhaas.

Every summer, my mother brought home small bundles of wala (vetiver) or dried khus grass from the market and tossed it in our matka of drinking water so that the water was fragrant and satiating. Sometime later, Amma learnt to make divine khus syrup from it by simply boiling it in sugar syrup, and that became a part of our childhood years along with the wala mats she hung on our balcony and windows and sprayed with water frequently to magically cool down our home.

Different regions have their own recipes to combat the summer months. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkand love their sattu sherbet — a protein- and energy-packed drink made from ground chickpea — to which sugar, salt, cold water and a dash of lemon is added. The savoury sattu sherbet features sanchal, chaat masala, green chillies, lemon juice and mint leaves.

Then there is the sumptuous thandai, a cooling drink made from full-fat milk, sugar, a paste of soaked almonds, cashew nuts, watermelon seeds, aniseed, white peppercorns, fennel seeds, poppy seeds, cardamom powder, saffron strands soaked in milk and rose petals. The boiled and cooled thandai is refrigerated for a couple of hours before it is served.

North India’s favourite sweet lassi has a lesser-known cousin, piyush — a velvety drink made by mixing equal quantities of shrikhand and yoghurt, adding sugar liberally and flavouring it with nutmeg, cardamom powder and saffron.

My mother-in-law’s fridge always had bottles of delicious wine-hued kokum or aamsul sherbet. She also made a delicately flavoured sol-kadhi from kokum, to which she added coconut milk and a few spices.

My mother’s heavenly nimbu pani, made with lemons plucked from a tree in the backyard, was the everyday cooler not just for the family but also neighbours, friends and relatives. A slight variation of this popular summer drink is called sudha ras in Maharashtra, for which lemon juice is thickened with sugar syrup. In the end, cardamom and mashed bananas are added to the liquid, which is stored in the fridge and also eaten with rotis.

And then there is the king of fruits — mango — that lends itself to an array of delights such as aam panna and aam ras. Though less celebrated than the mango, the humble wood apple adds antioxidants to our glass of bel sherbet.

True, summer would have been unbearable without these zero-fizz coolers.

Sudha Menon is the author of Feisty At Fifty and other books

  • Ingredients
  • Kokum, 10-12 pods
  • Coconut milk from one grated coconut
  • Two slit green chillies
  • Garlic, 2-3 pods crushed
  • Roasted cumin powder, 2 tsp
  • Asafoetida powder, 1/4 tsp
  • Rock salt or regular salt
  • Sugar to taste
  • Coriander leaves for garnishing
  • Method
  • Soak 10-12 pods of kokum in a small bowl of warm water for 2 hours.
  • Crush and mix the soaked kokum thoroughly in the water, strain and add to the fresh coconut milk made from one grated coconut that has been soaked in warm water and ground in the blender. You can also use coconut milk available in the market.
  • Mix together the kokum juice and coconut milk and add cold water to give it a thinner consistency. To this, add salt, sugar as per taste, green chillies and crushed garlic, roasted cumin powder and asafoetida.
  • Refrigerate this for a couple of hours and strain to remove the chillies and garlic. Garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves before serving.

Published on June 04, 2020
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