I have travelled, to, a lot of places and one among, the holiest is Varnasi or Benaras or kashi. The city is famous for so many things, be it the nashta, paan, galiyan, ghats, temples and being one of the seven sacred cities in India. The legend says that kashi was created by Lord Shiva; Pandavas also visited the place in search of Shiva to seek forgiveness for their sins during the Kurukshetra war.
The holy city welcomes the pilgrims round the year but sees heavy rush during the major Hindu festivals, especially Shivarathri and Holi.
The residents of the city are fond of their food. Sweets like rasmalai, jalebi, imarti, laddoo and balushahi are prepared daily and served in most shops and street carts. Snacks like samosas and kachoris are equally tasty and consumed as breakfast by many. Their vegetarian thalis with delicious curries and breads are extremely popular. The food consists of variety of flavours and spices that most of us love. To end a meal with or to refresh ones’ mouth, the famous Benarasi paan does it all. The use of milk and milk products such as khoya , curd and milk fat in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations and abundance of seasonal recipes is what is unique and makes the cuisine popular.
Thandai is an essential drink, for both Shivratri and Holi celebrations. This beverage recipe is prepared in combination with intoxicants like bhaang as an offering to the deity Shiva. It is also prepared on Holi. This recipe gives you a lot of energy, when you are fasting (especially when you are off solid foods completely).
— The writer is a chef and author of Festive Offerings to the Gods
Ingredients for Thandai
Whole milk: 1 litre (creaminess comes from whole milk) or 1 litre fresh curds (yogurt).
Almonds: 1 cup (soaked and skinned).
Black peppercorns: 10
Fennel seeds (saunf): 1 tablespoon
Poppy seeds (khus khus): 1 tablespoon, soaked
Sugar: 1 cup
Salt: 1 pinch
Water: 1/2 litre
Watermelon and melon seeds, skinned (commercially available): 1 tbsp
Cashewnut powder/paste: 1/2 tsp
Rose water (optional): 1/2 tsp
Dried or fresh rose petals (gulkand variety): 1/4 cup Mint leaves, chopped: ¼ cup
Dates, de-seeded: 6
Few strands of saffron
Grind the almonds with a few tablespoons of milk in it. Grind it so fine that grains of the almonds are not visible anymore. (You could add the cashewnuts too]) and then add dates and grind smoothly again.
The spices too need to be ground in a separate dry blender. You can roast them on a pan before grinding to enrich the flavours.
Roast cardamom powder, poppy seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, kharbooj seeds, saffron, watermelon seeds, raw cashews. Dry grind these spices and keep aside.
Boil the milk on low flame and let it thicken a bit. If you use yogurt, it should be fresh, thick and beaten in the mixer, using rose essence and water. For every cup of yogurt, you should add ¼ cup water.
Now mix the almonds and the spices, in the boiled warm milk/yogurt and whip it for at least 5 minutes to get a creamy
frothing, the left over thick sediment, grind again to a smooth paste and add with thandai . If using yogurt, instead of milk, grind all ingredients with the yogurt in a grinder.
Now add rose water into the drink.
Mix sugar in 2 to 3 cups of cardamom water (depending on how dense you want your drink) until the sugar dissolves totally.
Dilute the drink with this sugar solution, pour into large glasses and add a pinch of salt to each glass for seasoning.
Add a leaf of mint, saffron strand and rose petal to each glass, serve totally chilled.
Some add bhaang (a leaf grown and ground as paste, which induces intoxication) when added to the dish or drink. The original thandai contains bhaang , which is locally grown.
You must serve thandai cooled in the fridge because the name itself means ‘cool’.
Cooking tip for the day
Tofu it is a premium vegetarian substitute in many dishes that require meat. It is low in calories and very high on protein. Soaking the tofu in yogurt for some time makes it soft and spongy, especially since it might get too hard or crisp post frying.