Now the Indian summer may have its beneficial sides, but they have generally been lost on Indians. Most Indians cant wait enough for the heavy downpours at the end of long intense summer to end. Temperatures across the interiors have already topped 45°C in parts of India. The Indian summer isn’t easy on anyone.
Summer presents a challenge in both preparation and digestion of food. But can this paradigm be turned on its head? Can summer can actually have delightful surprises. Nature needs to cool off too, and has made a number of innovations to keep cool in the intense Indian summer.
Meat and masala lovers beware, meat and heavy food take longer to digest, and leave you feeling ‘heavy’. A combination of both, with saturated fats (hint butter c*****n – yes that’s equivalent to a cuss word for summer!). I am sure you have heard the killjoys say ‘eat light’ aka boiled or broiled. Why not make it interesting instead.
Look around for summer salads – especially of the Greek or Lebanese variety. More and more restaurants are concocting delicious light summer menus where salads rule the roost. Look out for amaranth, rocket, parsley and basil leaf toppings. Adding arugula, grape, melon, artichoke should do wonders.
Most vegetables are fine, but if you are the fried potato fan, then take note. The most beneficial summer vegetable is the lauki – calabash or bottle gourd. Also good – the delectable karela or bitter gourd. Admitted these are acquired tastes, but they will really help you on your day out in the sun. Most nuts and spices have the effect of heating up the body, but there are a few exceptions. Cardamom, almond and saffron find honourable mention here.
Have you tried curd rice? Yes, rest of India, wake up to this delightful invention from the deep south. It is nutritious, combats the heat and cools the body. Make it with fresh yogurt, and to enhance the magic, relish it with a dollop of mango pickle and roasted papadams. Try it at lunch today.
On a related note, there’s curd or yogurt, dahi to you, in its great in multiple forms. Paeans will not be enough to sing its virtues in summer. Curd contains proteins which keep allergies and ulcers away. There, you have the scientific reasons too! Combine with water, salt, coriander leaves, and finely chopped ginger and green chillies to make buttermilk. Try other curd takeoffs eg shrikhand or lassi.
No, I did not forget those essential meal times – the long hours between lunch and dinner, and beyond. There are summer aligned surprises around you. Sweet corn for one – in whatever undiluted form you choose to snack it. With a dash of lemon, roasted over coals, grilled in a microwave, in a salad with complimentary ingredients, the humble corn could well be a solid friend in summer.
Opt for the right fruits. Yes, there are good and not so good ones, those you need to take in smaller dosages. The mango seduces you, but look beyond the alphonso, daseri and chausa. There’s the raw mango, great to make aam panna. Go for the amazing melons – red, golden, light green, pumpkin – whatever the colour. Treat yourself with a watermelon, sprouts, and cucumber salad, toss it with olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of lemon. Add a dash of feta or beaten yogurt if you like. Chill the salad, it will match any frozen delight. A surprise guard against the summer heat is the blushing tomato, which act as a natural sunscreen. Cucumbers and even onions are natural protectors too. Add gooseberries (amla to the uninitiated) to your juices or even mint chutneys and you will feel cooler. Apricots combat summer acne.
Another overlooked, though increasingly popular summer choice is the coconut. Great in whatever form, but especially in its raw green avatar, that should be your drink of choice when have to be up and about in the heat. Less easily available outside west India, but a delicious natural summer drink is the kokum. A glass of kokum juice a day is said to not only prevent dehydration and loss of nutrients but also improve appetite and clean your blood. Need to be convinced still?
Summer comes along with a huge variety of traditional sherbets. From the humble nimbu pani to the falsa (Grewia asiatica) and jamun (no, not the Indian blackberry!) sherbets, jaljeera, even freshly made roohafza / gulkand can help you combat the heat remarkably well. Do go the traditional way and make them fresh, whichever fruit is in season. Adding sabja seeds help too.
What are not your friends, however seductive they may appear, are aerated drinks. You may work off the extra calories with an extra long run, but the artificial sweeteners have a long term impact on you. The occasional iced tea is fine, though try accentuating the lemon and the mint rather than the sugar. Most icecreams fall in a similar category, and overindulgence will make you fit perfectly into middle America – size wise!
Instead what is truly your best friend is – yes – H2O. Have it chilled if you prefer, it’s the only drink that will not just not harm you when you drink gallons of it, it does an ‘andar wala snan’ as nothing else will. Quick note, very chilled drinks while wandering about in the heat may lead to a slight constriction of the blood vessels in the skin and decrease heat loss, not what you were aiming for. But as the main ingredient of fruits, veggies and sherbets, water is best hope of summer succour lies. Make it your best friend,
Of course, if life permits, escape to the hills, or Europe or the Southern hemisphere. In case you cant, just take at least a few of these simple steps, and you shall have a unqueasy, happy season. Have a great summer!