The summer heat is on. We are trying to find out ways to cool off and beat the heat through changes in our diet and lifestyle. Being an Indian by birth and having spent my childhood and youth in the sizzling summer heat of India, I wanted to share some traditional tropical summer food ideas that can help you keep cool from inside.
Ice cream or ice cold beer will not help your body cool down for long enough. According to Gerald E. Mullin, the director of John Hopkins University, “Anything ingested that is lower than actual body temperature will initially produce a cooling effect systemically.” But body temperature later rises as the body digests and absorbs the calories. So the trick is not to eat cold food, but to eat food that is easy to digest and contains a lot of water.
1) Eat a lot of juicy tropical fruits like watermelon and pineapple. You can cut these fruits and keep them in the refrigerator in a Zip-Lock bag. A cold fruit salad with a lot of watermelon, pineapple, a few banana slices, berries and grapes not only tastes good but is also healthy and provides a lot of necessary nutrients. These fruits have a lot of water content, which helps you regain the water you lost due to the summer heat.
2) Mango lassi is a favorite summer drink in almost all parts of India. This is made from yogurt and mango pulp. Buy canned alphonso mango pulp from any Indian or Oriental grocery store. The Swad mango pulp is what I prefer. Pour yogurt and the mango pulp in a blender, add a little sugar and mix. Pour it on ice in a glass and sprinkle a little black salt, also available in Indian grocery stores.
Yogurt in any form is great for cooling off in the summer. Just put the plain yogurt in a blender with ice, sugar and salt and mix it to make a tasty plain lassi. Yogurt helps in our digestive process and is low in fat content.
3) Green mango drink or “Aam ka Panna” is another popular summer drink in Northern India. It is made from green unripe mangoes. Boil the mangoes, peel them and take the pulp out on a sieve. Make a paste of cilantro leaves, mint leaves, a little salt/ black salt, 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp cumin powder in a mixer. Add this paste to the mango pulp on the sieve and strain the juice out. Serve it with ice and mint leaves for garnish.
4) Salads are easy to digest, and raw vegetables often contain lots of water. Try a salad made from cucumbers, onion, sprouted chick peas, radish, cilantro leaves, chilies and lemon juice. Boiled potatoes are also added to make it more filling. In place of lemon juice, tamarind chutney is also used to make it even tastier. Seedless tamarind is available in Indian/Oriental grocery stores. Soak it in water and mix it with sugar and a little salt, and sprinkle it on your salad.
5) Lemonade is not only the most popular summer drink, but it also helps you regain the water and salt lost due to summer sweating. It is best to prepare it at home. Juice from a few limes, a little salt and sugar in ice cold water make good lemonade. Garnish it with a few mint leaves for added flavor.
6) Jal Jeera is another popular Indian summer drink. “Jeera,” or cumin, is the main flavor in this drink. Mix 1 1/2 tbsp mint paste, 1tbsp coriander paste, 2 tbsp cumin powder, 1tbsp dry mango (amchur) powder, 1tsp black salt, 1tbsp sugar and juice of one lemon. Then mix it with two glasses of water. Pour on some ice, and it is ready to drink. The spices used in these drinks have a cooling effect and helps your digestive system perform properly in spite of the summer heat. This drink is often used as a digestive drink after meals.
7) Tea is a popular drink in eastern and northern India, and also in China and Japan. Besides having many health benefits, tea cools you down and yet keeps you awake. In the summer, try the green tea or iced tea. You can also drink hot black tea or white tea, which also helps to keep cool and has a lot of antioxidants.
8) Avoid meat and poultry and eat more fish and seafood. Since fish has lower saturated fat content, it is easier to digest and doesn’t make your body heat rise. In the hotter parts of India, most people are vegetarians and in some states like West Bengal and Kerala, fish is the staple food. A simple Bengal recipe to prepare fish is the “jhol” or soup. Fry the fish very lightly in oil. Then toast “panch phoran,” a mix of five whole spices (found in Indian grocery shops) in the oil. Add diced potatoes, beans, cauliflowers or any other vegetable of your choice. Add salt, cumin, coriander powder and turmeric powder. Add water and let it boil. This is believed to cool off your tummy during the summer.
9) Rice soaked in water or “Panta Bhat” is another Indian summer food that is popular in the eastern states of Bengal, Bihar and Assam. This was a childhood favorite of mine. Soak the cooked rice in water for few hours and then put it in the refrigerator to prevent it from fermenting too much. It is traditionally soaked overnight, but that may cause health problems. Soak lime leaves with the rice to give it a nice flavor. Drain some of the water and add salt, lime and chilies. Eat it with raw red onions and any light curry or potato fry.
10) Lastly, I would like to tell about an Indian tribal summer drink that I have yet to try. This is “mandija pej,” a drink prepared by tribals of Koraput district in Orissa. Their usual staple food is rice. But when the mercury rises, they mix powdered ragi with the stale water of boiled rice and keep it in a covered container for a few days. Once the soup gets sour, it is ready to drink. The tribals also sell this drink in the weekly markets or haats, and it is their main food in the summer months. It cools the body and is very nutritious.
Sources: ABS- CBNIndian summer food