Whether we recognize it or not, most of us have been applying the concept of herbal energetics to our diet, 365 days a year.
It is why we prefer a warm mug of spiced hot cocoa in winter, but a slice of watermelon in the summer. Pumpkin pie sounds delightful in autumn, but strawberry shortcake is perfect in late spring. We are innately attracted to those foods that cool or warm us based on the elements that we are experiencing.
As such, we all have our favorite recipes. The family favorites which get prepared on the regular. The staples that are just part of the season. But sometimes this starts to feel a little repetitive, and the repertoire gets stale.
When food and drink boredom strikes, we can look to world cultures to borrow recipes that appeal to those seasonal energetics that we so desire. Cultures in cooler climates often offer us rich, robust meals that can stave off the winter chills. Meanwhile, cultures in warm, humid climates often offer recipes that quench our thirst and cool our bodies.
One such recipe that comes to mind is the traditional Indian thandai recipe. This milky, nutty, floral and faintly spicy beverage is associated with the Hindu festival of Holi – itself a celebration of color, love, and the end of winter. The prefix thand in Hindi literally interprets to cold in English. This thandai recipe thereby promises a very cooling, soothing drink.
Thandai is composed of milk in which nuts, seeds, and a variety of herbs and spices are infused, offering a fragrant and flavorful, even celebratory beverage. It should be noted that some thandai recipes may call for certain intoxicants (bhaang), but this is every bit as enjoyable in its more family friendly form. Delightful, in fact.
Traditional thandai masala (powder or paste used in Indian cooking) blends call for the following:
Dairy milk is undoubtedly cooling and moistening, making it a perfect base for this thandai recipe. However, if preference or dietary restrictions apply, use an alternative “milk” of your preference.
Nuts add a richness and depth of flavor here that simply cannot be overlooked. Almonds, pistachios and cashews all seem to be traditional additions to thandai.
Anybody that has enjoyed a slice of summer watermelon has undoubtedly encountered a seed or two, and may recall their slick, moist quality. As melon seeds are not available in the bulk section of any grocer near me, I used the seeds collected from a fresh cantaloupe. As I used them immediately, I only rinsed and patted dry. However, if you were to prepare this masala blend in advance, you would want to use dried seeds.
Admittedly, I have not often thought about the energetics of the poppy seed, but they are, in fact, cooling and slightly bitter.
Rose has cooling, slightly astringent energetics. The enchanting aromatics of rose water really elevate this thandai recipe to something celebratory.
Ayurvedic tradition classifies saffron with sweet, cool and dry energetics. Additionally, this rich (and expensive) spice is known for its carminative effects, earthy flavor and extraordinary golden color.
Another tasty, anise-flavored carminative, fennel also boasts cooling energetics.
Traditionally considered a warming spice, cardamom is a quintessential flavor with diaphoretic effects. By encouraging perspiration, cardamom serves to cool, in concert, with the other herbs and spices.
Pink or Black Pepper
Another “warming” spice, pink or black pepper also has diaphoretic effects and traditional flavor.
Cooling Thandai Recipe
What you’ll need…
- 1/2 cup cashews, slivered almonds, or unsalted pistachios
- 2 tablespoons melon seeds
- 2 tablespoons dried rose petals
- 1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon pink or black peppercorns
- 4 teaspoons poppy seeds
- 4 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 4 cups milk of your choice
- 1/4 cup organic sugar or sweetener of your choice (more or less to taste)
- Pinch of saffron
- 1 teaspoon rose water (or more to taste)
In the bowl of a food processor or a large mortar and pestle, combine nuts, melon seeds, rose petals, cardamom pods, peppercorns, poppy seeds, and fennel seeds. Grind to a course meal texture.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring milk up to the scalding point, approximately 180°F, while stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add sugar and saffron and stir to combine.
Combine the ground nuts and spices with the sweetened saffron milk and transfer to bowl. Cover with plastic film. Refrigerate until completely chilled.
After chilling, pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into another bowl. You may need to do this in batches. Note: The mixture may appear curdled upon first look; however, this is due to the soaked nuts. Once passed through the sieve, the mixture should be exceptionally creamy and smooth.
Before serving, add rose water and stir thoroughly to combine. Pour into small glasses and enjoy.
Yield: 4 servings