Lovely Lassis

Creamy chilled lassis provide ultimate respite from India's summer heat

Caramel Lassi
Caramel Lassi
This sweet riff on the Indian yogurt drinks known as lassis comes from Lingaraj Lassi, a popular refreshment stand in Bhubaneshwar in the east Indian state of Odisha. Its honeyed taste and caramel hue come from the sugars in the milk, which caramelize as the milk reduces, deepening and intensifying it in color and flavor.James Roper

Traveling in India as spring was lapsing into torpid summer, I was grateful to find creamy chilled lassis everywhere to sip in the heat. On city streets and in village shops, in homes palatial and humble, people rolled the wooden handles of star-shaped churners between their palms, frothing glasses of milk- or water-thinned yogurt to mix with flavorings for the cooling drink. At a canteen in Delhi, I indulged in a sugary lassi that was milkshake-thick with mango purée and a thinner one drizzled with Rooh Afza, a scarlet syrup fragrant with rose and screw pine. In Lucknow, a savory version was briny with black salt and pungent with cumin. And in the Himalayan foothills, mulberries were blended into a sweet-tart elixir topped with a layer of cream. Indeed, lassis are as varied as India's geography. In Punjab, crushed pistachios and dried fruit might be added as garnish, while in the south, a mix of ginger, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and cilantro seasons the drink. Delicious. But none of them matches the one found at Lingaraj Lassi in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. Here, the lassi is made solely with milk, heated ever so slowly so that its sugars caramelize, its flavor deepens, and its complexion turns the color of honey. Topped with chopped cashews, it is a lassi of which legends are made.