I try, as far as possible, not to step out of the house on most days, unless I really have to. The weather in Mumbai is oppressive and the heat tyrannical. It’s as if we are paying a huge price for the largesse the weather gods showed us with the slightly extended cool weather that stayed on till early March. And now it’s time to mortgage your comfort and peace of mind by having to suffer this heatwave.
I am cajoling my “Khaane Mei Kya Hai” team to set up shoots for episodes for YouTube channel only in air-conditioned places. I’m trying to avoid shooting on the streets in the day and trying to make the best of the few hours that we get after sundown, and I am also imploring everyone to avoid feeding me heavy, oily, spicy, masala food. In any case, I am feeling sluggish and sucked out, and eating a heavy Indian meal will only deplete me further. I am sure you too feel the same way.
So, what you have to do, which I religiously do when it is unbearably hot, is hydrate yourself constantly. Drinks tonnes and tonnes of water and liquids. It’s not just so that you can quench your thirst, its actually good for your body. What happens when we sweat, and that’s all we seem to do the minute we step out of the air-conditioning, is that we start losing sodium and potassium and electrolytes from our bodies.
So we avoid going out and we decide to sit indoors. But then we sit and binge on food which is high in salt content like chips, wafers, farsaan. That extra salt also causes an electrolyte imbalance. So, in these months we must immediately replenish all those electrolytes. Which makes fresh fruit juices, nimbu-paani or an electrolyte supplement in this heat a must.
I also find myself consciously abstaining from eating spicy food, heavy Mughlai food, oily food, and too much heaty foods as well. Heaty foods are the kinds of food that raise body temperature, stimulate the body, and increase blood circulation. They say, that too much heaty food in summer can tip the body’s balance, and can make you sick in this weather.
Most high calorie foods like eggs especially omlettes, deep-fried stuff like batata vadas and cutlets, shell fish like crabs and lobsters are heaty and should be a no-no in these hot months.
Instead, I yearn for cooling foods like cucumber, curd, raitas, most green vegetables, grilled meats and drinks like coconut water, buttermilk and lassi. My favourite is the Maharashtrian “Khamang Kakdi”. It’s a freshly made salad where, cucumber diced into small pieces is mixed with fresh coconut, roasted peanuts, lemon juice and fresh green chilies with a mild tempering of mustard and curry leaves. It’s cooling, crunchy and delicious.
The melon-y refreshing crisp taste of cucumber with the nuttiness of peanuts and the creamy, sweet taste of freshly grated coconut combines with the pungency of curry leaves, green chillies and the sharpness and bite of mustard. Never has anyone waxed so eloquently about a kachumber than I have on this, and that’s because I can eat bowls full of this.
Also great for the summer are dishes made with sour curd or buttermilk, like a Kadhi. Don’t forget, large parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat swelter in these months, and you can trace the origins of Kadhi to the heat and parchedness in Rajasthan and northern Gujarat, where buttermilk and yogurt often make up for the dearth of water, and chickpea (chana), jowar (sorghum) or bajra (pearl millet) is cooked extensively. I surmise that what’s good for the extreme heat conditions of arid Rajasthan is good for us in summer as well.
Kadhi is not only light, it’s a delight. Gentle on the stomach, it’s buttermilk cooked with green chilly, ginger, along with a simple tadka of mustard seeds, jeera, curry leaves and asafetida. Not only does this combination of spices make the Kadhi delicious but helps boost your general digestion.
In Gujarat, they make the slightly thin, mildly sweet flavoured, white Gujarati Kadhi, and in Rajasthan a yellow Marwadi Kadhi. The Rajasthani Kadhi is thickened with besan and spices. Sometime they add pakodas, which in these summer months can easily be replaced with “gatta” or steamed lentil dumplings.
In the “South” especially in Kerala, a version called “Mor Kuzhambu” is made exactly in the same fashion albeit with different spices. All these curd based “Kadhis” when eaten with steamed rice or a nice nutty jowar bhakri is comfort food for anyone who wants to beat the heat.
Then, of course, there is the raita, which in itself can be made in any way that you can imagine. It’s just combining thick yogurt with as many different fruits, vegetables, and spices, as you can imagine based on which it can be either sweet or savory and spicy, and perfectly cooling for the summer.
So, your recipe for summer must include curd, moong dal, coconut water, fresh fruit like apples, pears and pomegranate, watermelon, in sweet and sour salads, lots of methi seeds and jeera in your tempering, cold milk, leafy greens, pumpkin, gourd, cucumber, dals, fresh fish, and grilled meats. If all this fails, you have only two options; never leave your air-conditioned room or run away to the hills.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer based in Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.