A summer memory that is Maharashtrian Ginger Ale
Welcome the hot days with a refreshing Ginger Ale. Photo: Saee Koranne Khandekar
I have very few food associations with my paternal grandmother.
By the time we were old enough to spend holidays with her by ourselves, she was too frail and ill to manage even everyday cooking. Most of the time, we had aamti-bhaat meals with her trademark carrot pickle and sometimes, a simple vegetable preparation on the side.
Sometimes, my grandfather would bring home a chicken without notice and she would pick herself up and make a curry that we ate over a few days.
Occasionally, we would be treated to an evening snack of bhel from the bhelwala down the street. Or puranpoli from one of the many Maharashtrian sweet shops in Vile Parle.
Perhaps to make up for her inability to entertain us, she was lenient with our activities in the kitchen. As growing children, we were constantly hungry.
So, packets of custard powder would be put to use in the most innovative ways, and bread and Maggi formed a strong staple.
Occasionally, my grandfather would bring out his old ice-cream maker — an aluminum box with a plastic blade that would rotate inside.
It would have to be placed in the freezer while still connected to the socket, and because my grandparents had an old refrigerator that barely cooled water, we usually ended up with some cold, flavoured milk at the end of a very long and impatient wait.
What saved us, though, was the Rasna making — if you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you would know that this concoction was the backbone of every half decent birthday party and the sole survivor kit you had during summer.
Tang was “imported, expensive stuff”! Rasna was as prohibited as it was pleasurable.
We were permitted one pack of Rasna in the entire year, and we fought over flavours — my brother usually wanted mango or orange, and I always wanted kalakhatta. One of us would give in and summer would be dealt with.
For the rest of the year, any demands for a drink were met with glassfuls of perfectly balanced, traditional Maharashtrian limboo sarbat.
Usually, my mum would make an instant version of this lemonade, but my maternal grandmother would have a jar of the concentrate ready in her fridge for immediate gratification.
To this day, I pick this traditional lemonade over any other fizzy drink or juice in the world.
My father, a steadfast ginger fan, would rather drink a flask of Aale-limboo sarbat, or the traditional Maharashtrian Ginger Lemon Cordial all summer.
His excuse is that ginger is great for digestion; which it is, but in moderation. Although this makes it sound like a digestif, this fresh, slightly spicy drink is often served as a non-alcoholic aperitif in Maharashtrian weddings and similar joyous occasions.
It cleanses the palate and prepares you for a rich, indulgent meal. At home, it helps wash down hot and spicy snacks such as batata vada without messing up your digestion.
I like to play around with it a bit — like perking up my Gimlet with it or mixing it with a little cranberry juice and muddled mint and orange rind for a fresh, summer drink.
Or, like here, just top it with some soda and enjoy a new take on the Ginger Ale.
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Recipe for Maharashtrian Ginger Ale
1 and ½ cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup lemon juice
5-6 pieces of one-inch long stems of fresh ginger (young ginger, not fibrous)
¼ teaspoon salt
Club soda, to serve
1. Peel the ginger stems and bruise them in a mortar and pestle to release their juices.
2. Place the ginger, sugar, and water in a thick-bottomed pot. Turn on the gas and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
3. Bring to a vigorous boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 7-8 minutes. This will yield a simple syrup.
4. Cool the syrup completely.
5. Once cool, add the lemon juice and salt, and stir to mix.
6. Strain through fine muslin and with the help of a sterilised funnel, pour into a sterilised bottle. Store in the refrigerator for 3-4 months.
7. To serve, add 30-45 milliliters of the concentrate in a tall glass. Tear some fresh mint leaves in and top with club soda and ice. Serve immediately.
Photo credit: Saee Koranne-Khandekar
When Saee is not playing harrowed mum to her three children (and sometimes, WHILE she is playing harrowed mum), she is cooking up recipes in her head or in her kitchen, and finding parallels in world cuisine.
Follow Saee on Twitter @Saeek