An Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather, occurring after the end of summer proper (late autumn), usually followed by a period of colder weather. The “Indian in this context refers to the North American native Indians who would complete their harvesting and hunting at this time of the year to stock up on food before the winter set in. Today, it generally refers to a happy period/ success occurring late in one’s life or career.
In the context of where I live, an Indian summer is just that – very, very hot! Come the month of March and the temperature starts climbing gradually to peak in May/ June till the monsoon arrives to settle the dust, parch the thirsty earth and make life ever so bearable again.
I shouldn’t be complaining much because the temperatures do not normally go beyond 37C where I live, which isn’t so bad when you consider that 45C is the norm in summer in many parts of India! Of course, the one nice thing about the summer is that it’s time for India’s much awaited favourite – mangoes, and more mangoes.
In India, we know our summers well, so people get up early and finish off whatever work needs to be done outside before the sun climbs high. We do our best to stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day, eat food that sits comfortably on a sluggish digestive system and keep ourselves rehydrated with water or beverages designed to beat the summer heat.
Every part of India has its variety and versions of summer coolers, and I hope to post as many of them as I can this summer. This post is dedicated to Jaljeera which is a spiced tangy cooler that is predominantly flavoured with cumin and mint, and served with boondi (puffed and crisp deep-fried chickpea flour balls)
Jaljeera is native to the Northern part of India and a very popular summertime drink there. “Jal” is the Hindi word for water and “Jeera” means cumin so Jaljeera does translate as “cumin water”. Traditionally, it is made and stored in clay pots which keep it cool in the heat of the Indian summertime.
The taste of Jaljeera is a balance of strongly tangy, a little salty, and a hint of sweet with a lot of spice. Jaljeera is often made and served without any sugar though some people prefer their Jaljeera a bit on the sweeter side, but to my mind a little sugar balances out the other flavours but only to the extent where it doesn’t overpower the spices in the drink.
The tang in this drink comes from the use of a little amchur (dehydrated and powdered raw mango) and either lime juice or tamarind paste. What souring agent you use in Jaljeera is a personal choice. Lime juice will keep your Jaljeera green in colour, while tamarind will colour it brown.
Jaljeera is a beverage that can be served at just about any time of the day. It is a summer cooler of course, but it is sometimes served as an appetizer (to wake up the taste buds!), or sipped along the course of the main meal. Then it can be served as a digestive aid after a meal (most of the spices/ herbsin Jajeera are known to have digestive and carminative properties)
Jaljeera can be made up from scratch (roasting and powdering the spices, etc.) or otherwise, one can make up small batches of the spice powder and use that instead. The spices that go into Jaljeera (and the readymade spice powder) generally are cumin, ginger, black pepper, mint, Kala Namak/ black salt, amchur, etc, and everyone who makes it has their own particular blend with varied proportion of spices.
Most Indian beverages are rarely served with ice, and I also prefer my coolers this way because the ice melts down and dilutes them to a very watered down version that lacks flavour. Feel free to serve your Jajeera with crushed ice if you like it that way.
You can also use chilled soda instead of water for a twist on the original. As for the spices, and all the other ingredients, do tweak the amounts to suit your taste as this recipe is more of a set of instructions than an exact recipe and can be customized to personal preferences.
The “boondi” which are puffed and crisp deep-fried chickpea flour balls, which is added to Jaljeera just before serving is an important part of the experience of drinking this cooler. The crispness of the boondi (they will become soggy rather quickly once they absorb liquid) adds a dimension that can I have no words to describe. You can find boondi and Kala Namak/ blck salt in any store that sells Indian groceries/ food supplies. If you cannot find the salt, leave it out.
Jaljeera (A Spiced Cumin Flavoured Mint Lemon Cooler)