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Beat the Heat with Indian Treats

By Smriti Rao | July 16, 2012 8:03am

NEW YORK — As summer temperatures top 100 degrees, staying cool is a hot commodity.

It comes as no surprise then that Indians, whose countrymen consider stifling heat a factor of everyday life,  have learned the art of refreshment — downing frosty beverages like lassis, fresh coconut water, sugarcane juice and and icy rose-flavored drinks. 

Here’s a rundown on how you can beat the heat with Indian treats:


Like the Little Black Dress, this yogurt-based drink, which comes in sweet and salty varieties, never goes out of style.

A creamy concoction of yogurt and water, topped with spices, the drink originated in the fields of Punjab where farmers drank the smoothie to keep up their strength in the scorching summers, said lassi-enthusiast Charanjeet Singh, a 59-year old corn farmer from Hoshiarpur, Punjab, who moved to Jackson Heights three years ago.

Nureen Gulamali, 22, enjoys a traditional Kulfi outside Maharaja Sweets in Jackson Heights
Nureen Gulamali, 22, enjoys a traditional Kulfi outside Maharaja Sweets in Jackson Heights
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DNAinfo/Smriti Rao

“I always drink lassi at home, in the morning and in the evening,” said Singh, who distributes business cards for a local jeweler.

“I can stand out in the sun all day,” he boasted, adding drinking traditional salty lassi over the years has made him “strong.”

It’s this belief in lassi’s fatigue-busting powers in the summer that pushes Mohammed Habib, who works as a security guard, to make sure his 5-year old son Mohammed Jr. gets his daily dose of lassi.

“It’s so hot outside, it’s important to be healthy inside,” Habib said.

Most families have their own secret recipe for the drink, blending in chopped fruit like watermelon, mango and in some cases strawberry, Singh added.

And it’s not just families from the sub-continent that make the creamy smoothie — most Indian restaurants in Jackson Heights and the rest of New York City also serve some version of the chilled drink, chefs said.

At the upscale Junoon restaurant in Chelsea, run by Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna, mango lassi that sells like hot cakes, management said.

“We get 30 orders of mango lassi in just one night,” said pastry chef Jenny Lee, 24, who manages the restaurant's lassi-making.

“We are always making batches and batches."

How to Make Mango Lassi:

Ingredients (Serves 2)

225 g. Mango puree

125 g. Mango pulp

275 g. Skim milk

150 g. Plain lowfat yogurt

25 gms Sugar

Some Lime juice

A pinch of salt

Cardamom to garnish

Method: Blend all the ingredients with a handheld-blender for 30 seconds or until all the ingredients are mixed properly, garnish with cardamom powder and serve chilled.

Rooh Afza Lassi:

Another version of the drink, the “Rooh Afza lassi” is also a hot-seller, Lee said.

In this lassi, yogurt and milk are mixed with a strong rose-flavored syrup called “Rooh Afza,” which stains the smoothie a bright red and is delicious to smell and to taste, Lee said.

How to Make a "Rooh Afza" Lassi: 

Ingredients (Serves 2)

235 gms Lowfat cream

110 gms Whole milk

110 gms Fagé yogurt (Greek yoghurt)

28 gms Rooh Afza syrup (found at Indian specialty stores)

37 gms Sugar

Method: Blend all the ingredients until all the ingredients are mixed properly and serve chilled.

Rooh Afza syrup can also be mixed with iced water to make a delicious rose water-flavored drink. 

Lime Water “Nimbu Pani”

Not all Indian heat-busting drinks are yogurt-based. The humble limeade drink "Nimbu Pani" also sits in the pantheon of refreshment. 

For stay-at-home mom Madhur Aatrey, 50, it's the go-to drink to chill out after a hot day of running errands.

Twins Aanshi and Aangi Shah, 8, show off their favorite pineapple-flavored lassi at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights
Twins Aanshi and Aangi Shah, 8, show off their favorite pineapple-flavored lassi at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights
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DNAinfo/Smriti Rao

“Lime, sugar, water, ice… that’s it,” said the mom of two teens. “It’s simple, its refreshing, I like it."

This summer, however, Junoon is offering an adult twist on the refreshing summer drink  concocted from a mixture of fresh lime juice, mint, watermelon pulp and ginger among other ingredients, whipped up by the restaurant's chief bartender John Filby.

Here’s how to make Hanji:

Ingredients (Serves 1):

2 oz. Sweetened lavender/mint tea

oz. Fresh lime juice

oz. Club soda

2.5 oz. Rye 

½ oz. Simple Syrup

1.5 oz. Watermelon/Ginger/Lime Leaf mixture 

Fresh Mint


Muddle the mint leaves and sugar syrup in a cup. Add the remaining ingredients and mix in a cocktail shaker. Pour mixture into a cognac snifter.

Add crushed ice, garnish with mint sprigs and serve chilled.  

Mango “Maaza”:

No summer in India is complete without mangoes and mango juice, said 47-year old Patel Brothers' cashier Sandhya Vishwaram.

When she wasn’t eating the golden fruit, the Mumbai native said she headed straight to the store in her hometown to buy bottled mango juice — “Maaza,” which loosely translates to fun in Hindi.

“I’m pretty sure that’s how I got fat,” she joked.

These days, the bottled drink, available at specialty Indian stores like Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, is a cheap substitute for pricey Indian mangoes.

“The mangoes cost $30 to $40 dollars a box,” said 33-year old housewife Preeta Nair. “Here, for less than two dollars, I can taste Indian mangoes.”

The bright yellow-colored drink may be too sweet for some but, for fans, Maaza is the ultimate summer treat.