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Monday, March 01, 2021

The Back Burner: Two sweet-sour summer drinks

One is a simple recipe and the other is just a bit more complicated, but both are incredibly delicious and refreshing.

Written by Pooja Pillai | New Delhi |
June 3, 2020 8:00:58 pm
summer drinks, cool drinks, aam pora sharbat, aam panna, raw mango drink, tamarind drink The best summer drinks are made with tart ingredients like tamarind and raw mango. (Photo: Pooja Pillai)

I was going to begin this by observing that there’s a very good reason why hell is always described as being hot, but then I suddenly remembered reading about cold hells and so I googled it and, yes, there is such a thing (people apparently want to know whether hell is exothermic or endothermic). Anyway, the reason I wanted to begin with that rather trite observation is because it’s just been so damnably hot here in the northern plains and what’s got me through these months is glass after glass of iced drinks.

One of these is an easy recipe that I’m astonished at never having made before this summer. I came across it in Tanya Abraham’s Eating with History: Ancient Trade Influenced Cuisines of Kerala. It takes just two ingredients — tamarind and sugar — and is one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had. Versions of this drink are found around the country; Tamil Nadu’s Panakam is a jaggery-based beverage which is often made using lime juice, but just as frequently, tamarind water. In Rajasthan, Imli ka Amlana is a favourite cooler. Internationally, there’s the Suco de Tamarindo of Brazil, Agua de Tamarindo of Mexico, Puha of Ghana and Nam Ma Kham Wan of Thailand: it looks like pretty much every tropical country makes a basic tamarind drink, because it’s that delicious and refreshing. Here’s my adaptation of the recipe from Eating with History.

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1 cup – Dried, packaged tamarind
3 cups – Water
1 cup – Sugar (adjust this according to how sweet you want it to be)
Salt, to taste (optional)

For flavouring, use any one of the following: dried mint leaves, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, roasted cumin, black peppercorn

summer drinks, cool drinks, aam pora sharbat, aam panna, raw mango drink, tamarind drink A glass of chilled tamarind drink is not only very refreshing, but also one of the easiest to make, requiring only two ingredients. (Photo: Pooja Pillai)


*Boil water and steep tamarind in it for a couple of hours. Once it’s cooled to room temperature, with clean hands, thoroughly squeeze the tamarind in the water to extract all its pulp.

*Remove the rind and seeds. Stir in sugar (make sure it dissolves) and whatever flavouring agent you’re using.

*You can now store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. When you serve, you may want to dilute it with cold water. Taste it to decide. But always top it up with lots of ice.

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While I yield to no one in my love for Rooh Afza, I’ve decided that the best summer drinks are made with ingredients so tart that they make your teeth feel brittle. Take the ultimate drink of the Indian summer, Aam Panna. I’ve always loved it so much that I usually buy even those fraudulent packaged mixes which have about as much raw mango in them as my cat does. But I feel like those days are behind me, now that my friend T has introduced me to the smoky-sour-sweet magic of the Bengali version known as Aam Pora Sharbat. The difference between this and Aam Panna is that while raw mangoes are usually boiled to extract their pulp for the latter, the Bengali recipe requires them to be cooked directly on an open flame, much like baingan for bharta. It’s a messier process, but very rewarding. Here’s T’s recipe:


4-6 – Raw mangoes
Sugar or jaggery – this depends on how much pulp you extract. Usually, you use double the amount of the pulp
1 tsp – Roasted cumin powder
½ tsp – Roasted coriander seeds, crushed (optional)
Handful of fresh mint leaves (optional)
1-2 – Dried red chillies (optional)
4-5 – Black peppercorns (optional)
A pinch of rock salt or Himalayan pink salt

To garnish: Fresh mint leaves are always popular, but if you haven’t used red chillies in the drink, then use slit green chillies for a hit of heat as each sip goes down your throat.

summer drinks, cool drinks, aam pora sharbat, aam panna, raw mango drink, tamarind drink Aam pora sharbat has a depth of flavour that comes from roasting the raw mangoes, instead of boiling them. (Photo: Pooja Pillai)


*Roast the raw mangoes on an open flame, till the skin is almost burnt.

*Dunk them in cold water and once they’re cool, peel and spoon out the cooked pulp. In a blender, add the cooled pulp, along with sugar or jaggery and the other ingredients. You can skip the salt at this stage, if you want and simply salt the rim of the glass in which you serve the drink.

*Blend everything to a super smooth pulp. You can store this in the fridge for up to a week. When you want to serve, take a couple of spoonfuls in a glass, mix with chilled water and top with ice and garnish of choice.

[The Back Burner is a biweekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]

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