Lassi: Refreshing Indian Summer Drink

As our days become sweltering, summer recipes may help us beat the heat.

In India, temperatures can reach as high as 122°F in the summer. Traditionally, Indians did not avail themselves of air conditioning to stay cool. One of their summer survival strategies is to sip on a refreshing lassi: a cold drink whose base is a blend of yogurt and chilled water. Lassis may be savory or sweet.

The process of making savory lassi begins with dry roasting spices. Cumin is toasted whole, and then ground with a mortar and pestle. Mint leaves, ginger root, or chili peppers are selected. Black salt, or Kala Namak, a mild type of salt which is naturally mined in India, is used for garnish. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, a liquid derivative of cannabis is added. This is called Bhang Lassi. Indians prefer to use the thick milk curd from full fat cow’s milk that they make at home. The yogurt is placed in a bowl. Cold water is poured into the yogurt. The salt and ground roasted cumin are added. These ingredients are mixed with a hand held wooden whisk called a madani. I use a blender. The lassi is poured into clay vessels, and garnished with fresh mint leaves, ground ginger root, or sliced chili peppers. If you like, you may add ice cubes to make it colder. Lassi should be served with a spoon.

Salted Lassi

Photo by Benjamin Vander Steen

Photo by Benjamin Vander Steen

Adapted from Veg Recipes of India

  • 2 1/2 cups yogurt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon Kala NamakĀ 
  • Fresh mint leaves
  1. Place all the ingredients except the mint leaves in a blender.
  2. Blend well.
  3. Pour into tall glasses over ice cubes.
  4. Garnish with mint leaves.

Sweet lassis may be flavored with fruit pulp. The most popular is mango lassi. Other fruits that are typically included are strawberry, papaya, and banana. Freshly squeezed lemon juice is another widely used addition. Rosewater, sugar, raw honey, cardamom powder, and saffron are also added. Toasted sliced nuts are sometimes used as a crunchy garnish.

Mango Lassi

Adapted from Raks Kitchen

  • 2 cups mango pulp (you may purchase it frozen)
  • 3/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Saffron strands
  1. Dry roast the cardamom pod.
  2. Grind the cardamom pod with a mortar and pestle. You may just use 1/6th teaspoon (or less) of store bought cardamom powder.
  3. Place all the ingredients except the saffron strands in a blender and mix well.
  4. Pour into a tall glass over ice cubes.
  5. Garnish with saffron.