What You Need to Know about Lassis, with Recipes (None are Mango)

August 13, 2015

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. 

Salted Lassi

Makes 2

1 1/2 
cups plain yogurt

cup ice-cold water

teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

teaspoon ground white pepper

 teaspoon roasted cumin powder

A few ice cubes, for serving (optional)

teaspoon thinly sliced Thai chile

large fresh mint leaves, julienned

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Sweet Lassi

Makes 2

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Nik Sharma

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Nance
  • Amit Puri
    Amit Puri
  • kyokki
  • Phyllis Grant
    Phyllis Grant
  • Annada Rathi
    Annada Rathi
Nik Sharma is a molecular biologist turned cookbook author and food photographer who writes a monthly column for Serious Eats and the San Francisco Chronicle and is a contributor to the New York Times. His first cookbook, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation award and an International Association of Culinary Professionals award. Nik resides in Los Angeles, California and writes the award-winning blog, A Brown Table. Nik's new book, The Flavor Equation will be released in October 2020.


Nance November 1, 2015
These lassi recipes will make good use of my milk kefir - thanks.
Amit P. August 17, 2015
Hi Kyokki,
You nailed it with this " as a kid, my mother would always first ask, 'Salty or sweet?' ". It is precisely for this reason people believe Lassi is sweet or salted. What we need to understand is that Mattha (salted yogurt based drink) is rather difficult word to pronounce for kids and for others who are not from Northern part of India, hence as a convenience people started asking Lassi - Sweet or Salted?

Lassi is from Northen part of India i.e Punjab or Pakistan province. These nuances are more prominent when you are in Northen India. Hence it is important that one knows these subtle differences and still can ask for Lassi - Sweet or Salted :)
kyokki August 17, 2015
Thanks Nik for spreading the word about both types of lassi. Nothing beats it for combatting the heat, especially in the Middle East where I live!
Amit P. August 14, 2015
Hello Nik,

There is no such thing as salted lassi. Lassi by default is always sweet. The salter (lassi) butter milk is called "Mattha". Another striking feature is lassi is thick and creamy whereas mattha ( salted lassi) is watery in comparison to lassi. To add flavours to mattha one can temper is with some mustard seeds, curry leaves, green chilies, asfotida in 2 tbs oil.
kyokki August 17, 2015
Hello Amit,
There is such a thing is salty lassi, many many people and myself grew up around both types. Our versions were even simpler than these recipes, including the one you posted in your comment, flavored with either salt or sugar. When I would ask for lassi as a kid, my mother would always first ask, 'Salty or sweet?' Maybe there were other names for the salty one, but in our house either one was just lassi. Perhaps this was also the case in Nik's house, or in other homes which were not yours. Both viewpoints can exist at the same time.
Phyllis G. August 14, 2015
Love this, Nik. Thank you. I'm learning so much from you.
Annada R. August 13, 2015
Hello Nik,

Ginger is a great addition to salted lassi too. Thinly sliced green peppers and grated ginger is a killer combination in a salted lassi.