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Beat the heat with summer’s immunity elixirs

Upgrade a regular ‘shikanji’, ‘chhaas’ or iced tea to a stronger-than-your-Netflix-addiction health booster

Make mango smoothies, switching milk with curd
Make mango smoothies, switching milk with curd (Photo: Alamy)

While our collective attention was focused on news, video calls and quarantine chores, the sweltering heat crept up on us. Swapping the daily cup of evening chai with iced tea might offer a welcome respite.

Is there a way to make it healthier, apart from adding honey as a sweetener? “Top it off with a mint-ginger concentrate," says Karishma Dalal, chef and co-owner of Bombay Salad Co., a health-food café in Mumbai’s suburban Bandra. It started home delivery last week. Her recipe of the concentrate, often used in her drinks menu, starts with boiling 1 tablespoon of grated ginger and a handful of mint leaves in 300ml water for 3-4 minutes. Set aside and cool. Blend and strain and use within two days. Stir in with lemonade or even a basic cucumber juice for a punch of flavour and nutrition. If available, include some sabja or chia seeds, to set the health benchmark even higher. If you missed a week of quarantine workout and feel beaten down by guilt, take the edge off by replacing black tea with a detox variant, like tulsi. Mix a few drops of lemon juice, sweeten with honey and stir in some mint-ginger concentrate for a repackaged iced tea.

Mix a few drops of lemon juice, honey and some mint-ginger concentrate to make a healthier iced tea.
Mix a few drops of lemon juice, honey and some mint-ginger concentrate to make a healthier iced tea. (Photo: Alamy)

The hipster café that offers turmeric lattes has suspended operations till further notice but here’s a startlingly simple drink fix—lime-turmeric cordial, courtesy Dalal. Boil 1 litre water with 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon of fresh turmeric, 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, the zest of one lemon, the juice of two lemons, a pinch of pepper and a bit of salt with 6 teaspoons of a natural sweetener like cane sugar or jaggery or six dates. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once reduced by half, check and adjust for sweetness. Cook for another 5 minutes and cool, then blend and strain. It can be stored for five-seven days.

Dalal uses it as a natural base for an orange, carrot and turmeric juice. “Fresh orange juice flavoured with raw turmeric can be a banging combination," she says. Her tip is to pair fruits in the same colour family for juices. “It usually works. For example, pineapple and raw turmeric can be a perfect match," she adds.

Ginger, a superfood, aids digestion and improves the body’s ability to absorb meals, a sure-shot way to boost immunity.

The two frontiers of good health are the liver and the gut according to Ayurveda, says Shikha Sharma. A medical professional who now focuses on preventive healthcare and wellness, she founded the nutrition centre NutriHealth in Delhi in 1998.

The liver is the seat of metabolism while the gut is regarded as the body’s second brain for its dense concentration of neurons. “Simply put, these neurons will signal the gut to discard food with toxic bacteria and absorb nutrients," explains Sharma. To maintain gut health, her drink of choice is coconut water. Depending on preference, it can be bolstered with a smidgen of ginger. Dalal suggests adding a pinch of grated raw turmeric to take it a notch higher. She likes the malai and says combining it with fresh orange juice, in the ratio of 1:2, will yield a refreshing flavour bomb.

Probiotic-loaded home-made curd is considered one of the best foods for gut health. It’s the season to make mango smoothies by switching milk with curd, aka the good-old lassi. Throwing in some nuts, like walnut or almond, and seeds such as sunflower or flaxseed, will take this drink a step further in the nutrition department, says Shubhendu Kadam, executive chef at Dharana in Shillim, who creates wellness menus for the resort near Mumbai. Mangoes can be replaced with bananas too.

A savoury cousin of lassi, chhaas, or buttermilk, can be redefined as a spiced cooler by introducing cucumber and spinach. For flavouring, temper curry leaves, asafoetida, cumin and ginger in coconut oil to a roasting consistency and blend with buttermilk, a bit of spinach and cucumber to a fine smooth consistency. Season with rock salt or Himalayan salt.

The ultimate powerhouse of vitamin C, a key nutrient for unrelenting immunity, is amla (Indian gooseberry). It has 500 times more vitamin C than most citrus fruits and even when it’s cooked, the nutrient is not lost to a large degree, says Sharma. Grated amla can be added to lemonades but it might turn too sour and would require some flavour balancing with a natural sweetener like honey. In a juicer, make a potent drink with carrot and amla, says Dalal. Even coconut water with a dash of amla juice can be surprisingly delicious, she adds.


Infused water

Stepping out for coconut water can be a legitimate deterrent. If so, fortify regular water with immunity-boosting ingredients straight out of your kitchen.

  • To detoxify and strengthen the liver for digestion, wellness expert Shikha Sharma extols the many benefits of fenugreek seeds. These help the liver manage insulin and break down sugar—particularly useful given that the extended lockdown has yielded passionate bakers. Soak 2 teaspoons each of whole fenugreek and cumin in 2 litres of water overnight. Strain and drink it through the day. Chew the seeds, even if the sharp bitterness of fenugreek gets to you.
  • Fennel seeds-infused water is a digestive too, says chef Karishma Dalal. Boil 300ml water, turn off the flame and steep 5-7g of whole fennel seeds for 7-10 minutes. Another recipe is to mix powdered fennel in cold water with raw sugar or honey and some black raisins. Steep for 3 hours, blend, strain and sip on it through the day.
  • Shubhendu Kadam, executive chef at Dharana in Shillim, recommends spice-infused water. Fill a 1 litre glass bottle with water and add a whole 2-inch cinnamon stick, 4-5 cloves and 4-5 peppercorns. Leave it undisturbed for at least 4 hours in room temperature and then sip on it. Mint sprigs can be added for freshness.

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