Comfort food across different communities

Sunday, 20 April 2014 - 7:40am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

From the Bengali macher jhol to the Sindhi mattho, each community has its own way to beat the heat. Shraddha Uchil looks at some culinary antidotes to cope with the blistering Indian summer

With fish being an inseparable part of Bengali cuisine, it is not surprising to find patla macher jhol on the list of dishes the community whips up during the hot summer months. A light curry with freshwater fish like rohu or hilsa, it is made without onions and is said to cool the body. Mangoes also feature prominently on the summer menu, says food blogger Kalyan Karmakar, adding that aamer dal (red lentils with raw mangoes) is a favourite. "The first mangoes are used for cooking, because they are plentiful this time of the year," he adds. Mangoes add tanginess to the dish and the lentils provide all the proteins required for a hard day's work under the sun. Aamer dal can either be consumed as a soup or accompanied by a plate of hot steaming rice. Another popular mango preparation is the aam pora shorbot, a cousin of the aam panna.

Parsis swear by falooda as the ideal food to deal with the blistering summer heat. It's hard not to love the frothy pink concoction which brings with it a play of textures — the smooth vermicelli noodles and the jelly-like sabja seeds (tukhmuriya ni biya) blending wonderfully with the chilled rose milk and ice-cream, all in one delightful tall glass. The falooda, although found in various forms all over the Middle East, Turkey, Pakistan and India, is said to have originated in Iran. Says Perzen Patel of the popular food blog Bawi Bride, "While falooda is a given during summer, the community also indulges in oodles of mithu dahi (sweet yoghurt)." Patel has also tried her hand at making her own summer cooler, albeit with a Parsi twist. "Once, I ended up with a big bowl of leftover lagan nu custard and didn't know what to do with it. So I ended up making lagan nu custard ice cream," she says.

Kairee panna is Maharashtra's answer to lemonade. Made with fresh raw mangoes, it is a sweet-sour-spicy drink known for the cooling effect it has on the body. Kokum sharbat (a juice made using a sour fruit commonly found in the Konkan region) is also generously consumed. In Vidarbha, the heartland of the state, khus ka sharbat is served to guests who come in from the outside heat.

Food blogger Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal says that summer foods are dependent on the produce available during that time of the year, hence the use of mangoes. "Summer calls for a lighter menu, and the use of less heavy lentils like moong, toor and masoor. Even the vegetables used are lighter, so to speak — gourd and cucumber, for example. So in Maharashtra, you will see khamang kakdi, a salad using cucumber and peanuts, being made more often during the summer months."

Around this time of the year, Sindhis ditch elaborate meals and focus more on making simple sabzis and using more curd/yoghurt. In Sindhi, mattho generally refers to a kind of buttermilk, but it can also be prepared in the form of a raita. One such preparation is the suandhrey jo mattho, for which you need to boil dried tender drumsticks (suandhro) and add it to beaten curd which has been seasoned with ginger, chillies, salt and pepper.

"Mattho can be made using several other combinations too. Also, during summer, we prepare a lot of dishes using tinda (Indian round gourd) and bhee (lotus stem)," says Kashish Wadhwani, a homemaker. Eatery chain Kailash Parbat has already started offering its famed bhee basar, bhee masala and bhee tikkis — all made using lotus stem — at its 20 outlets in Mumbai.

Aratikaya or raw banana is commonly used in Telugu households during summer. The humble fruit takes on various forms — aratikaya vepudu (fried), aratikaya ulli karam (in the form of a curry with spiced onion) and aratikaya kobbari pala koora (in a coconut gravy) are some of them. Mukkala pulusu or rasam is preferred as the lighter alternative to sambar in the summers.

"We also use pesara pappu (moong dal) in many forms. We make payasam (a sweet) using it as well. Among summer drinks, we have panakam and neer mor, a type of buttermilk which is made with seasoning of lemon, salt, ground ginger, curry leaves and coriander," says Ramtulsi Yerra, a businesswoman from Hyderabad. Panakam is a festive sweet drink and a summer cooler prepared with jaggery and flavoured with dry ginger, cardamom and pepper.

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