Summer Drinks From an Indian Kitchen
When maa made shikanji, it was always perfect— 1 lemon, 2 spoons of sugar, a dash of black salt, a couple of stirs and voila!
The glass glistening with pearly condensation; she always made me that perfect shikanji when I got back from school. Today, about 1500 kilometers from home, I make my 6th batch – only to bin it and start all over.
Maa spoiled me, a bit too much for my own good. She’d wake up at 4 am with a blueprint of all that was to conspire in the kitchen that day – strain pureed mango, make chaat masala from scratch and other things that seemed completely trivial at the time. When I’d walk back home from the playground, flush faced and damp haired, she would turn on the cooler, bring me a steel glass full of NEER MOR, SOUTH INDIAN BUTTERMILK and engage me in a conversation until I forgot all about my tryst with the sun
Indian buttermilk made with curd. It goes by the name majjiga in Telugu, majjige in Kannada and sambaram in Malayalam. It is a refreshing, cooling, traditional, curd-based drink that’s perfect for the sweltering heat during the summer months. It is similar to lassi, sweetened yogurt drink but savory in flavor with a high proportion of water to yogurt like chaas or mattha.
In many Indian homes, down South, you will find grandmothers and mothers filling earthen pots with neer mor during the summer months. Not only do the family members relish this easily digestible buttermilk beverage but also offer guests. Neer mor is an integral part of a South Indian thali and is savored towards the end of the meal since it aids digestion. Buttermilk has probiotic benefits, hydrates and gives relief from fatigue and profuse sweating.
My mom maintained an organic garden and grow curry leaf plant, green chilies, and fresh coriander among other plants. It was a pleasure to pluck fresh herbs and use them in cooking especially while making spiced buttermilk.
During summer, she made a batch of fresh neer mor every day. Each home had their own spice concoction, i.e the spices/herbs used in the making of spiced buttermilk recipe. Some home cooks make a paste of green chilies and ginger while others add slit or chopped green chilies and grated ginger to neer mor. I like to add grated ginger and slit green chilies.
After the neer mor is infused with the flavors, she used to discard the green chilies and serve. She would allow the neer mor to sit for a couple of minutes for the flavors to meld.
One of the best Indian summer drinks that is healthy, refreshing and tasty.
She resisted my repulsion for milk. On some days, my morning glass of milk wore a rosy pink smile, owing to a spoonful of rooh afza. Other days, it was camouflaged as thandai. When I grew particularly difficult, she met me halfway through a glass of thick lassi.
When we drove to Nani’s house in papa’s Maruti, she’d always stop midway for bunta or jain shikanji. It was the only time she allowed me to consume outside beverages.Feeling rather let down by my culinary experiments, I pick up a can of diet coke. At first, I bring out the painkillers and devise a pimple popping strategy. But then, already reveling in my childhood memories, I do what maa would, and chuck my pills for good old ayurvedic products. Chug down a glass of haldi ajwain milk for my cramps and apply turmeric paste on my zit. Text maa— “I’m flying home this weekend, have shikanji ready…in a steel glass.”