Sunday, 27 July 2014

Mango Lassi and Summertime in Delhi

They say you talk about the weather when you have nothing else to talk about. That's certainly not true of my phone conversations with my parents. Hot or cold, Delhi's extreme weather has so profound an impact on daily lives, that it never fails to find a mention on our phone conversations. Just a few months ago, they cheered as a freezing winter that had forced them into layers of bulky winter wear for too long, came to a close. Now, they are suffering through an especially brutal, seemingly endless summer.

When we were little, we often escaped Delhi's brutal summers by seeking refuge in Kerala, where most of our extended family still lives. My childhood summers in Kerala deserve nothing less than an entire post on the subject. But there were some summers that - surely in a moment of heat induced madness - my parents decided to spend in Delhi.

My recollection of these summers is, at best, hazy. Most of our energies, after all, were focused on protecting ourselves from heat strokes or from transmuting into sweaty puddles. In those days, when we had no air-conditioning at home, our savior and messiah was our air cooler. You threw buckets of water in, and in return, the cooler threw cool, moistened air into your face.

My brother, in particular, relied heavily on it to preserve his sanity in the hot months. Throwing buckets of water into the cooler is not a pleasant task, however. You first had to wait in the bathroom (no cooler there, mind you) while the bucket filled up, then carry the wretched thing through our bedroom into the sweltering heat of the balcony, where the cooler was housed, and then, with all the strength you could muster, pull the bucket all the way up to the cooler's height to empty its contents. Marx wouldn't have approved, but when it came to cooler refilling, the unwritten principle we followed was "from each according to his need." I could survive just a few minutes longer without the cooler's aid than my brother could. And that was enough. I would hold on to the edges of my sanity, bearing the heat. Finally, he would succumb and trudge into the bathroom with an empty bucket, and I would know that relief was near.

There was, however, one silver lining to it all. Mangoes. In the Delhi summer, you will find them everywhere. You'll find them on the streets being sold in cane baskets, and peeking out of giant cases in the neighborhood grocery store. Heck, Delhi even has an international festival - all for mangoes - every year. It is called (surprise, surprise), the International Mango Festival. I remember going to the festival as a child, seeing more mangoes than I ever had, and returning home with crates of golden yellow mangoes.

Mostly, we ate the fruit as is. A good mango needs no embellishment. But because I am especially fond of mango shake, my mother always reserved some to blend with milk and turn into a delicious summertime drink for me. Recently, we picked up a tin of mango pulp at the local Indian store. Not quite the real deal of course, but the mango lassi it went into was good enough to bring on the nostalgia and remember the best and the worst bits of summertime in Delhi.

Mango Lassi (serves 3)

This isn't much of a recipe because you just throw in the ingredients into the blender and blend away. You can play with the proportions below, which will give you a mildly sweet, mildly sour lassi.

3/4 cups thick fresh yoghurt (make sure it is not too sour)
3/4 cup sweetened, tinned mango pulp or puree (you can substitute with home made mango pulp with sugar/honey to taste)
1.5 cups milk (I used soy milk)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Blend all ingredients together and serve.    

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