In areas of the Punjab region in northern India, summertime temperatures regularly soar past the 100-degree mark. So in addition to a spicy cuisine—which makes you sweat and, thus, cools you down—it’s no surprise that the refreshing yogurt drink known as lassi also originated in the region centuries ago. “Lassi is enjoyed all around the year, though it’s most preferred during the hot summer months,” says Radhika Subramanian, who has lived in Chennai, India, since the age of 4.
The author and cook behind the blog Tickling Palates, Subramanian began cooking with her mother at a young age. “Homemade yogurt is a staple of every Indian household. While the recipe for lassi is basic and simple, the method is different,” she says. “My mother used to churn lassi manually using a wood churner. I guess I was 11 or 12 when she considered it safe enough to let me use the blender.”
At its most basic, the traditional drink is comprised of plain yogurt, milk and water (or ice) with different spices or sweeteners added depending on the type of lassi being made. It is essentially a blank, creamy canvas. Plain sweet lassi will get a few teaspoons of sugar, while the savory salted lassi substitutes a pinch of salt and often other herbs and spices like mint, cumin or ginger. Nearly every version includes the signature spice of ground cardamom, adding complexity and a subtle, earthy sweetness. “I’m partial to our salt lassi because it takes me back to India, and it’s strangely refreshing on a really hot day,” says Troy MacLarty, owner of Bollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon. “But mango lassis are by far our most popular.”
Subramanian prefers using native fruit in her mango lassi. “Normally, in Punjab and Northern States of India, Lassi is also served as a dessert and is part of a thali (meal platter),” Subramanian explains in her recipe. “I use only alphonso mangos for the rich color it imparts, and it’s also sweeter than other varieties.”
If fresh mangoes aren’t available, Subramanian suggests using a mango purée. But with lassi providing such a versatile base, interpretive recipes can be whipped up using just about anything in the kitchen, from chocolate to creamy coconut avocado. “Seasonal fruit often makes a great lassi,” says MacLarty. “At this time of year local strawberries are really good, so we make a lassi with strawberries and cardamom. And we’ll definitely make peach lassi later in the summer.”
1½ cups plain yogurt (Greek style will also work)
1 cup whole milk
1 cup water
5 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. ground green cardamom (seeds only)
Tools: whisk or blender
Ensure the liquid ingredients are cold, then whisk or blend all the ingredients together until frothy. Makes 4 servings.
Troy MacLarty, Bollywood Theater, Portland, Oregon
1 cup cubed fresh mango
1 cup plain yogurt
¼ cup milk
3-4 Tbsp. sugar
Seeds of one cardamom pod, or ¼ tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. chopped pistachios to garnish
Garnish: chopped pistachios
Combine the mango, cardamom seeds and sugar in a blender and blend until the mango becomes a thick paste. Add the yogurt and milk and blend until smooth. Pour into tall glasses and garnish with chopped pistachios. Makes 2 servings.
Radhika Subramanian, Tickling Palates