I’m in Palakkad this week, where my family hails from originally. This is where my roots are and I love visiting whenever I can. With the present climate change scenario, summers are becoming unbearable and it is no different here. In fact, it is hotter here than it is back home during the day, though it becomes cooler and quite pleasant once the sun goes down. Every region of the world that suffers hot summers has it’s own version of lemonade or limeade and so do we. A more common traditional thirst quencher though, is Sambharam, a mildly spiced buttermilk or yogurt drink.
This is not surprising when you consider that our main meals are always finished with yogurt and we make it fresh everyday. Traditionally, we also made our butter and so buttermilk was always available at home. Nowadays a lot of us prefer to buy skimmed milk so not many make butter at home anymore.
Sambharam is a thin buttermilk or yogurt based salted drink that is spiced and flavoured with ginger, a hint of asafetida, crushed lime leaves (Naragathelai) and curry leaves. This is then left to steep for a little while to bring out the flavours. Before the days of refrigeration, Sambharam would be stored in earthenware jugs or containers to keep it cool.
Sambharam is often served at the end of a meal and during the festive meals called “Sadya”. It is considered not just refreshing but is good for digestion. a and known by different names. Spiced buttermilk is made across India and known by different names. The recipes may also differ in terms of spice additions to the buttermilk. In Kerala, Sambharam is also know as Morum Vellam (meaning a mixture of buttermilk and water) or Pacha Moru (meaning raw/ not cooked buttermilk). It is called Neeru Moru in Tamilnadu, Chaach in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and Majjige in Karnataka.
The version of Sambharam commonly made across Kerala is further spiced with chopped green chillies. I prefer to leave them out and let the ginger shine in my Sambharam. The adding of crushed lime leaves gives it a unique lemony/ lime flavour without the tang of lime itself. Lime leaves are difficult to come by these days unless you have a bush or tree in your garden but Sambharam is incomplete without it for me.
Traditionally, the lime leaves and the curry leaves are torn and crushed between one’s fingers before adding it to the buttermilk. One must pick these bits out of the Sambharam before drinking it or they could get stuck in the throat. A less messy way to deal with this is to just put the lime and curry leaves with the pieces of ginger in a blender with a little water and grind it as fine as possible. Mix this into the buttermilk and then strain it out just before serving. Sambharam can be made in larger quantities and b refrigerated for use throughout the day. It is best drunk fresh or the same day.
Sambaram – Spiced Buttermilk or Yogurt Drink
- 2 cups slightly sour buttermilk or 1 cup thick plain yogurt
- 2 cups chilled water or 3 cups chilled water if using yogurt
- 1 1/2 inch piece ginger
- 4 leaves to 5 lime or Kaffir lime (optional)
- 2 or 3 sprigs curry leaves
- 1 big pinch asafoetida powder
- Salt to taste
- Whisk together the buttermilk (or yogurt) and water till smooth.
- In a very small jar of the blender, grind together ginger, lime leaves and the curry leaves with a couple of tablespoons of water to as fine a paste as possible. It will be a bit coarse and that’s fine.
- Stir this into the buttermilk/ yogurt and water mixture. Stir in the asafoetida powder and the salt to taste. Refrigerate for about half and hour to allow the flavours to develop.
- Stir well and strain into 4 tall glasses and serve.