Lassi and Spice as a concept grew out of the idea that lassis –pronounced “luh-sees” – have the potential for universal appeal. Essentially, lassis are Indian yogurt smoothies. Mention “lassi” and you will often get a big smile from their fan club. For those who grew up in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, memories of grandmothers, summer heat and mango season come flooding back. Around Seattle, mango lassis are on the menu at every Indian restaurant and my kids suck down their creamy, orange drinks they before our food has even arrived. Yet, if you haven’t eaten Indian food very often, or if you only browse the drink menu as far as the Taj Mahal beer, you may never have heard of them.
How did lassis originate? Yogurt is a staple in South Asian households and most often homemade. Before traveling to India, the idea of homemade yogurt would never have occurred to me. Yet, India’s warm climate and rich buffalo milk creates a perfect environment. My mother-in-law often has a batch of creamy, plain yogurt cultivating on the countertop, ready to add to salads and curries. From there, a drinkable version isn’t a far leap. Lassis are most popular in the northern areas of South Asia, balancing out the traditionally heavy, spicy cuisine.
They are also a cooling, stand-alone snack, especially popular during the hot, dry summer months. Lassi cafes and street stands can be found around India where the batches are mixed by hand with a wooden blender, churned by rolling the handle between your palms. At home or in restaurants, a small serving of the drink is often served alongside a thali, or Indian’s version of a curry ‘flight’ with various small portions served together with roti and rice as one (amazing!) meal.
As you may have guessed, traditional Lassis are savory, not sweet. Sometimes called a “salt lassi’, they are a blend of plain yogurt (known as dahi in India), milk or water and cumin. My menu will feature a Salt Lassi and a Golden (turmeric and almond) Lassi. Down the road, we’ll be playing with other savory flavors like coriander, cucumber and mint.
Sweet lassis are most popular in the US, where mango is the most common. After months of experimenting with different mango options (fresh and frozen), I discovered that nothing delivers the ideal taste, color and consistency like imported Alphonso and Kesar mango pulp from India. So this is what my mango lassis will feature. And because this is the Pacific Northwest, we’ll have a berry option on the menu at all times. More seasonal fruit options are definitely on the horizon. Pumpkin Spice Lassi anyone? Hmmm….I will never say never.
A few fun options I found through my research: blending in butter to make a Makkaniya Lassi. And something interesting – but not current on the L&S radar – is the Bhang Lassi, made from edible cannabis. Anyone for a Cheech & Bhang?
What are your favorite lassi flavors? Ideas and recipes are always welcome! Any history or geographical points I missed?