We are at the beginning of amla season. Indian gooseberry, with its sharp sourness, brings back childhood memories of mothers coaxing fussy children to have their dose of vitamin C packed in amla. In recent months, with immunity-boosting foods taking centre stage, recipes with amla have gained favour. Although amla pickles and murabbas are widely known, there’s a rasam too and cocktail bars are experimenting with ingenious drinks.
Like most bartenders, Nitin Tewari, mixologist and co-founder of Gurugram’s Together at 12th, loves working with indigenous ingredients to develop new cocktails. Amla’s sharp sour notes, slightly dry mouth feel and sweet aftertaste is a tailor-made combo for the drinks he creates: “As mixologists, we know sweet-and-sour cocktails are a hit, especially in India.”
For a desi twist, Tewari replaces lemon with amla in a classic Tom Collins and Daiquiri. He begins by creating a simple cordial with the fruit and stores it to experiment with both alcoholic and no-alcohol drinks.
To take the desi experience a step further, amla is paired with herbs like coriander and even paan. Tewari uses fresh coriander leaves to garnish the Daiquiri. “This drink has gin and amla, and the scent of coriander uplifts the overall experience,” he says.
Podi & Poriyal, a south Indian restaurant in Singapore, offers a cocktail named Vetrilai—a whisky-based drink with amla syrup, spiked with paan. “It is our take on the Japanese highball,” says Srikiran Raghavan, general manager of Podi & Poriyal. Whisky is infused with paan, the amla syrup is mixed in and then topped with soda and ice. The amla syrup or honey, as they prefer to call it, complements the peppery notes of paan.
Amla drinks can be non-alcoholic too. Here’s Tewari’s recipe: In a tall glass, add a teaspoon or two of the amla cordial, top off with soda or tonic water and throw in some ice for a refreshing afternoon drink. For a spicy punch, add a smidgen of ginger or a sliced chilli.
Podi & Poriyal has a mocktail named Nellika on its menu. It combines their in-house amla syrup with the non-alcoholic herb-flavoured beverage Seedlip 94.
To go completely desi, there’s nothing like an amla rasam. The recipe here, shared by Podi & Poriyal’s Raghavan, comes straight from his kitchen.
Nellikai Rasam (amla is nellikai in Tamil)
4-5 amla, deseeded and cut into small pieces
Quarter to half tsp cumin seeds
Half tsp coriander seeds
Half tsp urad dal
4-5 black peppercorns, whole
Quarter tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
2 green chillies
Half-inch piece young ginger
5 cups water
1tsp sesame oil
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
One dry red chilli
5-7 curry leaves
Half tsp black mustard seeds
A pinch of asafoetida
1-2 tsp ghee
A few coriander leaves, chopped
Roast cumin, coriander seeds, urad dal and black pepper in a little oil for a few seconds, until the urad dal begins to brown lightly.
Mix amla pieces with the roasted spices in the cooking vessel. Add water gradually to get a smooth paste-like consistency.
At this stage, one can add chopped tomato to cut the flavour of the amla a bit.
In a pan, heat oil and fry ginger and green chillies. Then add the amla paste along with water to get a thin consistency like rasam.
Add salt and turmeric powder, mix well and bring to a boil, adjusting water as needed for consistency.
Now, in another pan, prepare the tempering. Heat ghee, add mustard seeds, dry chilli, asafoetida and curry leaves. Once the spices start to splutter, transfer to the rasam and mix well. Keep the vessel covered for 5 minutes.
Finally, garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves and serve.
Nitin Tewari’s Amla Cordial
150 gm amla, deseeded
250 gm sugar
250 ml water
10g citric acid (needed for longer shelf life)
Take a pan, add sugar, water and amla. Bring to boil and stir gently, then let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and allow it to cool.
Strain the amla from the liquid mixture. Add the citric acid and mix well until dissolved. Store in cold place in a glass bottle.
60ml Bacardi White
20ml amla cordial
15ml lime juice
In a bottle or cocktail shaker, put all the ingredients and shake. Strain into a glass. Preferably, pick an elegant coupe. Garnish with a slice of amla and toast to good days.
Amla Coriander Collins
45 ml gin
15 ml amla cordial
10 ml lime juice
2-3 coriander leaves
In a bottle or cocktail shaker, put the gin, amla cordial and lime juice. Give it a good shake. Pour into a tall glass, preferably highball, top up with soda and ice. Garnish with coriander leaf and enjoy your drink.