As I had previously mentioned, Indian summers can get really hot and every part of the country has its favourite summer coolers. Lassi is a yogurt based summer cooler (drunk the year round) that’s from the Indian state of Punjab and now known all over the world.
Lassi is more popular the world over in its mango avatar, but the original and traditional Lassi is savoury and made with plain yogur that is watered down a bit with water, flavoured with toasted and powdered cumin. This savoury version is more popular in the villages and is more of a thirst quencher than the sweet one.
In the sweet version of Lassi, the salt and cumin are replaced with sugar and usually flavoured with cardamom and even saffron sometimes. Traditionally, Lassi is kept chilled in earthenware pots and drunk out tall steel glasses to quench the thirst that comes only with a hot summer.
When Lassi was first discovered by non-Indians it seems that they were less than thrilled by it from reports, but it has since has found much love, evolved and is now made in all sorts of flavours from the ever popular mango version, to non-traditional ones like chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, apple, fig, etc.
The British came across Lassi way back when they first came to India and they weren’t particularly impressed by it. Apparently an English dictionary from 1866 describes the drink as “curdled, sour milk” and a British civil servant included a description of Lassi as part of rural Punjabi cuisine in a book published in 1872 (source : Smithsonian Mag –
“For drinking they collect quantities of sour milk… the milk is kept for months, till covered with green mildew and full of maggots, the stench of it is indescribable…this ‘lassi’ or sour milk.”
Either the “natives” were having their fun with the said civil servant, or the man had seen something else and got his wires crossed!
The first mention of Lassi in a U.S. newspaper was apparently in a 1971 New York Times article, when a reporter came across the drink in Pakistan and described it as “the esoteric whitish fluid that Pakistanis concoct by mixing yogurt with water and adding salt or sugar.”!!
I must mention here that in India, Lassi is consumed throughout the year and not always as a summer cooler. In Punjab, Lassi is also served along with a meal as it is cool, light, refreshing and a perfect antidote to spicy foods.
We love mangoes, and like our Lassi even better when there’s mango in it. There are quite a few varieties of mangoes available right now, but the ones we really look forward to are the Goan Mankhurad variety of mangoes. They’re slightly fibrous but are juicy and very sweet and an absolute delight. As if that were not all, the ripe mangoes are so aromatic that they perfume your kitchen like nothing else.
We love mangoes, and like our Lassi even better when there’s mango in it. If you would prefer to make a savoury Lassi, just blend together regular plain thick yogurt (not Greek style) with a little water, toasted and powdered cumin, till smooth and creamy. Lassi should be slightly thicker than milk but of pouring consistency like a sort of watered down milkshake.
We don’t traditionally add ice to our chilled drinks because it melts and waters them down. This is why my recipe calls for chilled mangoes, yogurt and milk to make Lassi.