Foods are special ingredients of life that retains their significance in every season of nature. But there would still be certain specialties of both ingrediented and prepared identities that return with their own season of rule in specific times of the year. The current prevalence of summer is no exception and so is the specialness that food bears and simultaneously enjoys through these days of unbearable heat. Here’s detailing seven such food ingredients that sums up summer in India in all their profusion of culinary flavors and cool feels-
Sattu is neither a fruit nor a vegetable but rather a type of flour made from roasted ground pulses and cereals, typically gram. This nature of its expression also means that it is an ingredient that comes with a profile of year round availability. Such easy access of sattu has seen it find wide interpretation in different culinary capacities. Be it parathas or fritters, or even as a simple mash mixed with oil and onions and seasoned and flavored, and even in the form of kadhis and kachori stuffing or in making the kachori dough itself for instance, this is an ingredient as versatile as could be.
But come summer and this humble food ingredient that is so proteinous and still cheap for it to earn the moniker of being the poor man’s protein makes for a different kind of revelation. Specially in the state of Bihar a very simple concoction of sattu and water is widely relished as a coolant both in imparting sweet and savoury tastes. Equally traditional and indulgent recipes that are essentially simplistic but filling and nutritious express as sweet preparation of halwa or kheer or even milkshakes so that your summertime cravings do not need to be compromised with.
One of the more exquisite summer specialties, Ice Apples sends out the cool vibes in their very mention. They look like rounds of ice when peeled, instantly bringing over a much needed respite from the sweltering summer heat even in their aesthetics. The core nature of them is also essentially cooling. Ice apples are also immensely delicious and so are the preparations that involve them as the main ingredient.
Particularly in the southern regions of India, ice apple is quite a hit even as it assumes as special a significance in the Bengali culinary context. The fruit in itself is a treat to devour and relish, with its slight sweetness and immensely refreshing properties being such an apt fit for summers. But it would be certain classic recipes that make it even more indulgent a food worthy enough for every summer to be awaited.
One of the most sumptuous of way for ice apple to be cooked is in the form of an evergreen dish called kheer. The recipe is made out of the fruit’s pulp which is quite a time consuming process as far as extracting that sweet stuff is concerned. But the taste that it delivers is every bit as divine as possible which is why come summers and no one minds sweating it out a bit for this preparation to get underway.
Another equally simple and classic a recipe of ice apples sees them cooked as fritters. The pulp is mixed with flour and coconut and jaggery to make a batter. Small dollops of the mixture is dropped into hot oil and deep fried for little servings of deliciousness that no one minds gobbling up despite the considerable oiliness that they bear.
Of course no summertime menu can be complete without a refreshing drink to sip on at leisure. Ice apple juice then is a very obvious option that can be enjoyed as per personal preferences. Whether it a plain icy preparation or an enriched milky one, a glassful of this immensely nutritious wonder ingredient is all you need to beat summers in true Indian style.
Rare and ritualistic, the preeminent identity of wood apple speaks of an Indianness all throughout. It also is medicinal in nature with every part of the sacred tree finding use in traditional medicine. Matching up to this all roundedness would be also the many ways that wood apple is eaten. The fruit can be eaten raw or by cooking it variously even as the younger leaves of the tree too are consumed as salad greens.
Bael juice, colloquially called bael panna is one of the most ubiquitous preparations that however has quite a few different recipes to deliver different smacks of regional taste. Other traditional culinary explorations of wood apple most commonly assumes the form and identity of preserves or murabbas and jams. If you are in the mood to incorporate the goodness of the summertime fruit into your main meals, then a pan Indian chutney or a southern rasam can be the way to go. Even a simple curry can be made with bael in the most basic of ways in cooking for a wonderful side dish that truly appetises you up with its sweet-sour undertones as an elixir to beat the heat.
For the humble pointed gourd to find place upon our list of summer food specialties might not seem to make much sense. But the beneficial nature of this veggie is way too profound for it to escape attention. And given that one of the most ingenious and Indian ways of eating this veggie asserts as a specialty sweet, one cannot indeed give up on this simple but surprising summer season savior.
Parwal is often used to make fries and even fritters. Sliced pieces are coated generously in a simple salted besan batter and is fried for a side dish or even appetiser that is best enjoyed hot out of the kadhai. It also can be fried with potatoes or made into a sabzi; in fact parwal itself is referred to as green potato for the versatility it encompasses. The pointed gourd can also be easily incorporated therefore into many mix veg recipes. A particular favorite would be the Bengali recipes for Potoler Dorma or Potoler Dalna even as the sweet interpretation that it is made to assume in north India makes parwal shine even brighter as a resourceful summer ingredient.
There’s a certain respite afforded by the sour taste palette from the unbearable summer heat that makes this expression of food flavor a summertime favorite. From the more popular ingredients like raw mango and tamarind to some more exotic and indigenous identities like kokum, sour preparations sweeten up the meal experience of heated days like no other. A special produce of the lush Western Ghats in India, this is one of the more natural foods that generally do not require too much human intervention for its production.
Kokum is mainly used as a souring agent in many ethnic preparations in some regions of India. Whether it is simply added to dals or is used as the main ingredient in curries of both vegetarian and non vegetarian nature, each recipe makes for wholesome servings of health and heartiness. The iterations are differently occurring in different regions even when the essence is by and large maintained similarly. From the Gujarati Osaman to the Goan Sorak, from the Assamese masor tenga to the Maharashtrian solkadhi, kokum is what imparts these dishes a distinctive identity and unique flavor.
Solkadhi however is one of the more special preparations since it is more a drink than a kadhi accompaniment to rice or roti. Dried kokum skins are added to coconut milk for a beautiful pink hued drink that is salted and spiced to serve as an appetiser one can drink either along with meals or even otherwise. A sweet variant of the drink too exists as Kokum Saar that is made by diluting kokum in water and adding jaggery, even as coconut milk can be opted for as well in making this beverage that is as relishable as it is refreshing.
Another ‘quaint’ ingredient that makes summers all the more flavorful in India is its native treasure of drumsticks. The long stick like produce of the tree is widely eaten throughout its entire lifetime, in their young tenderness as well as when they are hard and fibrous enough to not be eaten entirely. The nutritional content indeed is what makes them such eternally consumed components of the culinary. It also is the leaves of the plant also known as moringa that is consumed as leafy greens or as powder. Moringa powder is in fact a superfood that is widely popular for its many health and healing benefits. Drumsticks are a summer staple throughout the country where it is cooked into sambars or rasams or dals or stews or soups even as a specific preparation with mustard paste makes for a very unique food preparation altogether.
The versatility of khus too is as much a characteristic classification of its uniqueness as any of the other ingredients already explored. But the myriadness of its range goes way beyond the considerations of food. In fact the foody connotation of this shrub is pretty specific that expresses as a singular almost identity of khus sharbat or syrup. Such ‘limitations’ of it on the culinary ambit though also points to its exclusive property of being a coolant which is what makes for an interesting summer discovery.
The aromatic prominence of khus too is evident which imparts to its drinkable preparation a quality that is easily discernible. Khus sharbat is diluted khus syrup which in itself is a direct commercial product of the green grass. This syrupy preparation of khus, also called vetiver finds additional use as a topping or flavoring agent in many other drinks and desserts including icecreams.
Khus syrup can also be made from scratch and is a more preferred option due to the marketed variants being artificially colored an unnatural shade of green. Khus indeed is one of the more exotic food specialties attributable to every Indian summer and one that is all the more worthwhile in slurping and enjoying.