Hot and spicy: That’s how I liked the tall, tingling drinks I was served growing up in southern India. They were nonalcoholic, cool and instantly refreshing. Little did I know that they were increasing my metabolism and helping me to digest food better.
Now I make them myself, relishing them all the more for their healthful, albeit minor, benefits and sophisticated yet playful tastes.
Spices grow best where temperatures soar, so it’s no surprise that hot and tropical countries have a wealth of spicy foods to try. Zero in on their iced, spiced beverages and you’ll find drinks that often involve sweet-tart components as well: mangoes, lime and lemon juices, coconut water, jaggery, watermelon, grassy herbs and flavored sodas.
The kick in such drinks comes primarily from jalapeño, black pepper, ginger and/or a combination of spices and herbs including cumin, black salt, cilantro and mint. A fun way to showcase those components is to freeze whole spices, a bright leaf or a coin-size slice in the ice cubes that grace each glass.
Many of the concoctions taste better when made in advance, so the ingredients have time to meld. However, the longer they sit, the less the zing will come through. So it’s fine to reinvigorate them with a teaspoon or two of their heat just before serving.
Sambaram is a traditional drink from the western state of Kerala, famous for its spices and coconut. Once the butter is removed from hand-churned yogurt, the resulting buttermilk is used in a variety of recipes or as a spicy cold drink blended with green herbs, ginger and jalapeno.
Ginger lime cooler is a fabulous drink my maternal grandmother would make, using the freshest tender pink ginger and limes straight from the tree. She created a concentrate called a squash, which we would then dilute as needed. Because ginger marries well with lemon-lime flavors, the mix of those juices is often in play.
Watermelon mint zinger is something I played around with during my college days to keep me focused and studying on hot, sleepy nights. The sweetness of the fruit contrasts beautifully with the sharp jalapeño.
Jaljira spritzer is a modern version of a traditional North Indian drink made with water (jal) and cumin (jeera), a blend reflected in its name. The spices in this drink — black salt, mint and cumin — traditionally are used in digestive chews that are eaten after a heavy meal.
Experiment with levels of salty, sweet and sour while the afternoons are sunny and long. These drinks are beautiful to behold, and your guests will be able to quench their thirst and drive responsibly.