With expert help from Nik Sharma of A Brown Table, cooking Indian food at home is going to be less intimidating than you think.
Today: You've ordered a mango lassi at your favorite Indian restaurant, but did you know there are many more variations of India's favorite summertime drink?
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During the brutally hot summer spells in India, one of the most popular ways to cool off is by drinking a very simple yogurt-based drink called lassi. You’ll probably find mango lassi on the menu of almost any Indian restaurant in the U.S., but I’m sharing two recipes—one for a savory version, the other for a sweet version—that I grew up with and that are less common in the States. They’re very easy to make and only require a few ingredients.
The basics of making lassi are simple: You start with a good-quality tangy yogurt that’s unsweetened and unflavored and blend it with spices and fruit of your choice. You'll see recipes that call for milk, but I stick with tradition and add only ice-cold water to the yogurt. When milk is added (which I don’t recommend), I feel you’re crossing into the grey zone where the drink becomes more of a yogurt-based smoothie rather than an actual lassi. You also don’t need to use Greek yogurt since you’ll be thinning the yogurt with water.
I’ve listed the volume of water that I use when making lassi at home to produce a drink that’s creamy in texture yet thin in consistency, a balance that keeps you cool and refreshed without feeling too heavy. Feel free to adjust the amount of water for a thicker or thinner consistency.
My favorite savory lassi is this salted version, which is seasoned with fresh mint leaves and a few thin slices of chile. You just mix salt, yogurt, and ice-cold water in a blender and then garnish the frothy liquid right before serving. Enjoy it with or after a spicy meal or in smaller amounts as a palate cleanser between different courses of a menu.
This sweet lassi recipe is similar to the salted savory version except with the addition of sugar, a few drop of rose water for flavor, and a sprinkling of edible rose petals. I don’t use honey as a sweetener because it can compete with the rose water, but both white or light brown sugar will work well with the floral flavor.
In place of rose water, you can make vary the flavoring depending on the season: I like a mint and peach lassi in the summer and a pumpkin lassi in the fall. You can make either recipe one or two days ahead of time; simply garnish it just before serving.
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt 1/2 cup ice-cold water 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper 1/4 teaspoon roasted cumin powder A few ice cubes, for serving (optional) 1/2 teaspoon thinly sliced Thai chile 4 large fresh mint leaves, julienned
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt 1/2 cup ice-cold water 3 tablespoons white or light brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon rose water (use 1/2 teaspoon for a stronger flavor) A few ice cubes, for serving (optional) 1 teaspoon dried edible rose petals
Nik Sharma is the writer, photographer, and recipe developer behind A Brown Table, an award-winning blog that has garnered best-ofs from Saveur, Better Homes & Gardens, and the International Association of Culinary Professions. His weekly column, A Brown Kitchen, appears in the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for Saveur, Taste, Food52, Eater, among others. His first cookbook, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food was released on October 2018. He was also featured in America, the Great Cookbook. Nik lives in Oakland, California.