To beat the Indian summer, head to the kitchen

June 4th, 2008 - 6:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
The sun bakes the plains and temperatures shoot to a scorching 40 degrees Celsius and more - the famed Indian summer is at its peak. Just the opportunity for India’s culinary creativity to work its magic with yoghurt, mint, lentils, sprouts, mangoes and what have you being used in myriad ways to stay cool. Across India’s vast plains where air-conditioning is a luxury and even refrigerators are a prized possession, Indian households resort to age-old recipes to stay cool. In diverse India, the recipes are modified with each region too.

So, if in the north, yoghurt is whisked with sugar or salt and roasted cumin seeds to make ‘lassi’ or ‘chaach’, the same drink is tempered lightly with mustard seeds and curry leaves to make ‘mor’ in the south.

As Indians battle the heat with lighter and cooler cuisine low on spices and laden with water and nutrients, culinary experts also prescribe a return to the dietary roots.

Food writer, author and documentary filmmaker Pushpesh Pant has the perfect breakfast for the heat worn.

“Just hop over to the halwai (the sweetmeat seller) next door and gorge on lightly-steamed dhoklas and a glass of lassi for breakfast.”

Dhokla, a fast food from the western state of Gujarat, is made of ground chickpeas soaked overnight, mixed with gram powder and then steamed lightly with mustard seeds, red chillies and ginger. The yellow chickpea cakes are garnished with coriander and served with green chillies.

“Dhoklas are very popular during summer because they are light on the stomach, cooling and tasty,” says the owner of a large Delhi-based sweetmeat chain, Agarwal Sweets. The shop, one of the many dotting the city, is doing brisk business in dhoklas and lassi.

It has hitched up a large circular earthenware jar wrapped with a damp red rag round its middle to store the creamy yoghurt drink. It is churned in the morning and kept in the earthen jar because baked clay, a natural cooler, keeps it cool. A glass costs a mere Rs.20 (less than 50 cents).

There are other drinks conjured up in the kitchens of yore to tackle the heat. Aam panna, for instance, made of unripe mangoes, boiled and distilled with a generous sprinkling of mint leaves and light spices, is said to be the perfect antidote for the hot winds blowing across a searing afternoon. And, of course, the variety of sherbets made from the essence of aromatic herbs like khus and rose that quench your thirst like no aerated drink can.

Then there are savouries like chaat, a mix of vegetables, munchies, tamarind and curd, poha (flattened rice) that is lightly saut

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