Lassi is an Indian drink based on yogurt and water, especially drunk in hot dry weather (some people in India do not eat Yogurt much at all during rainy season, as it is considered heavy and building to Kapha, which builds climactic ally during the monsoon. This is controversial, as there are other authorities that say Yogurt is the one dairy product that does not aggravate Kapha. I am in the middle; Yogurt is heavy, but easily digested, so I believe it is fine for well balanced Kapha, but should be avoided, with the rest of dairy, by unbalanced Kapha (excessive fluids like watery eyes runny nose in hay fever season, tendency to bronchitis and phlegm in lungs in winter…these people need drying, or improved fluid processing/strengthened Agni, not moistening or foods that are tougher on Agni. I personally have strong Agni, but still don’t eat nearly as much Yogurt in Winter or otherwise cold or rainy weather. And then, I do not eat it at night).
There are many ways to make Lassi. The most basic recipe is just Yogurt, salt and water. Some authorities in Ayurveda believe Yogurt should always be diluted w/water, for the above reasons.
To this mixture may be added any one of a number of spices. Most common is cumin. Another is fennel. Cilantro is often used in Tamil Nadu, as is roasted curry leaf. Mustard seeds can be popped in sesame oil, to which a little fresh ginger root, cumin, hing, and curry leaf are then added (after the mustard has popped) and further roasted. This is called Mohr, translated as buttermilk, and it is pretty fantastic at the end of a midday meal or as a drink on its own.
In Parangipettai, near Chidambaram, where I also lived, a man used to sell it out of a large clay pot kept in the shade. I remember watching him preparing the spices, the sound of the cilantro as he tossed it in the scalding oil at the very end, before adding to the yogurt water. In fact, the tool used to mix the beverage up is nearly identical to the wooden implement that Mexicans use to make hot chocolate!
Yogurt or Kefir 1 cup
Salt A dash. More in hot weather if you are out sweating.
Water 1-2 cups, to taste.
If your yogurt is not sour enough, add a dash lemon or lime.
Dilute a little yogurt with water, add salt, stir real well, add rest of water, keep stirring. Or blend it all in a blender.
Cumin 1 tsp. Crush in hand, or dry roast a bit and crush in hand or mortar/pestle
Fennel Less than the cumin, 1/4 tsp is good. More if you like. Crush, as above
Cilantro A couple of pinches, straight, or scalded as in above description
Curry Leaf Fresh curry leaves, 4-5 are great crushed a little or torn and put in plain. But if popping mustard, you can scald them for greater intensty of flavor.
Tamil Style Salt Lassi (Mohru or Buttermilk)
Sesame Oil 2 tsp
Black Mustard Seed 3/4tsp
Cumin Seed 1/2 tsp or more
Fresh Ginger Root 2-3 small slices
Asofoetida 1-2 pinches
Curry Leaf a few pinches
Coriander Leaf a few pinches
Heat 2 tsp sesame oil with the mustard seeds in. As the oil scalds the seeds will pop. Let them all pop, as the popping slows down, remove from fire, add the other ingredients, except the corainder, and return to a medium high heat, stirring so nothing burns. This is an art. You want a high enough fire so the curry leaf crispens, but does not burn. Experience is needed here. When done, toss in the coriander leaf, scald a few seconds, and add to the previously mixed yogurt, water, and salt. Stir. Let sit in a cool place for an hour before serving. That way the taste of the spices permeates the whole drink. Store in frig. Even better the next day to some people.
Middle Eastern “Lassi”
Then there are the sweet Lassis. Most basic is just to add sugar, ice, and blend. Personally, I prefer it with honey, which is not typical. All the Indian restaurants have Mango Lassi, which is usually made from sweetened canned Kesar Mango pulp and yogurt. I also like a sweet Lassi with saffron and cardomom.
Indian yogurt has a very particular bacterial/flavor profile, and the restaurant Lassis are made with whole milk yogurt, so what you are getting is nearly a milkshake; though less fat than actual ice cream, not less sugar. Now you can get Indian style yogurt, even low fat, at the Indian market and North Park produce. It says Indian style yogurt on the container.
Gujaratis have some fabulous Lassi with salt, sugar, and spices, including green chili–very hot and very delicious. Do not know the recipe, but there is a packaged mix at the Indian market called Jal Jeera, or Jeera Jal i forget. You can mix that in to yogurt and water and its pretty good.
I have my own original sweet Lassi I make if I am starving, have no time, and am thirsty, too, but don’t want a big meal. I use date syrup, which you can get at any Arab or Iranian market. I use plain Tahini, from the bottle, not the one at Trader Joes to which has been added garlic, salt and lemon; that’s to use with falafel or hummus.
Eyton Shalom Original Made-up Middle Eastern Sweet Lassi Emergency Food Beverage
Yogurt/Kefir about 1 cup
Plain Tahini Paste (no salt, garlic, etc) 2 tsp
Date Syrup to taste 1-2 tsp.
Sometimes i might add a little water. But the nice thing about this is you can just stir it up w/a spoon. No blender needed.
Sometimes instead of Tahini I use walnuts, which require the blender.. Now its what the Mexicanos call a Liquado.
Since I have been experimenting with Mexican Acqua Fresca, today, being quite hot late in the day, I made cucumber acqua fresca, with salt and a little agave syrup.
But I decided to try it with cumin and a little fennel
1 organic cucumber, seeded and partially peeled
12 oz H20 or more
salt to taste, about 1/2 tsp
agave, about 1 tsp.
cumin powder, 1/4 tsp
fennel seed , a pinch
lemon, a squeeze.
This was quite refreshing and cooling. It was so good, i wanted to try it with some yogurt. I had some homemade Kefir on hand I had made from unhomogenized milk (Trader Joes) using the Trader Joe’s brand kefir (which tastes like Russian style) as starter. I just took 1 cup of my Agua Fresca and added 1/2 cup of the Kefir, and re-blended. Call that a Cucumber Lassi.
Afghanis, Persians, Lebanese, all have yogurt salt drinks. In fact they exist from the Balkans all the way to Bangladesh. The Lebanese, Afghani and Persian varieties have mint in them, which is also very fine. Most Persian and Afghani restaurants will serve some version. I do believe I have had it with cucumber and mint somewhere, maybe at the original Khyber Pass on Convoy St., which, once upon a time, was quite good.
Persians also make a cucumber yogurt soup in Summer. Cuke, yogurt, salt, raisins, walnuts, ice, drunk out of a bowl! Yum!
Copyright Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac. San Diego, CA Aug 2011 All Rights Reserved, Use With Permission
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego