I couldn’t wait to eat the Indian vegetarian special meal I had requested on the flight that took me to my junior year abroad in Singapore. This was pre-internet, if you can remember those days, and I had gotten the “insider” advice to order this meal from reading Lonely Planet. I was not disappointed. The vegetables in my curry were vibrant and cooked to just the right texture. I savored each bite. I tasted the eggplant, potato, and carrot. Then I speared a delicate appearing string bean and bit down. Within seconds, I thought I was going to die. I had mistaken a fiery green chile for an innocent bean. My eyes teared. My throat was burning. I began to hiccup uncontrollably. My seatmate made sure I wasn’t choking and then pushed my flight attendant call button for me. The flight attendant rushed over and asked my handsome and distinguished appearing seatmate how she could help him, somehow blind to my gasping, tearing, and sweating. He pointed at me: “She needs a glass of water.”
Chivalrous he was, but he was wrong. The only way to extinguish the fire of an erroneously eaten chile is with yogurt.
Indians figured this out long ago. In Indian cuisine, yogurt is eaten for taste, cooling refreshment, and for its digestion-enhancing probiotics. You’ll see yogurt at meals in the forms of raita, the yogurt and cucumber condiment, and in drinkable form as lassi.
The basic formula for lassi is simple: equal parts yogurt and icy cold water. The crucial first step is to get the best tangy, full-flavored yogurt you can buy or make. Next, think about flavor. Lassi is enjoyed in both sweet and salty forms, and both can be spiced with ginger, cardomom, saffron, rosewater, mint, and other flavors. Besides the plain, lightly sweetened variety, my other favorite is the mango lassi, popularized by expatriate Indians worldwide. Vibrant hued and fruity, the mango lassi doubles as beverage and dessert.
Mango lassi can be made with fresh, frozen, or canned mango. There is less room for negotiation on the variety of mango. Ask any Indian, and there is only one answer: the Alphonso, King of Fruits. All mangoes have a brief season and as a result are in short supply. The Indian Alphonso is no exception, and until recent times rarer still because of the US trade embargo that was not lifted until 2007. Many Indian cooks here use canned Alphonso pulp for their mango lassis and desserts, preferring its sweet and silky mangoeness over the fresh but inferior varieties more commonly available in US markets.
Who am I to argue with millions of Indian mango lassi makers? I use Alphonso pulp to make my mango lassi smooth, sweet, and flavorful. To play on the dessert-worthy fruitiness of mango lassi, I’ve adapted it into a frozen yogurt with a subtle spicy undertone of ground ginger and a crunchy topping of chopped pistachios, served in a rice flour dessert crepe in a nod to the Indian crepe called a dosa.
* * *
Mango Lassi Frozen Yogurt
Yield: about 1-1/2 quarts, or 10-12 servings
2 cups whole fat plain yogurt (I use Strauss family creamery– you can use any tart, whole fat, plain yogurt with active cultures, the tarter the better)
2 cups Alphonso mango pulp (available in Indian groceries and online)
1 Tbsp sugar, or to taste
1/2 tsp ground ginger
garnish: finely chopped pistachios
1. Whisk together all ingredients except pistachios in a bowl until well combined and sugar is dissolved.
2. Chill mixture in refrigerator for a minimum of an hour until very cold.
3. Place chilled mixture in an ice cream maker and mix for 25-30 minutes, until thickened.
4. Serve as soft serve or freeze for several hours for firmer texture, if desired.
5. Excellent on its own, even better served in dessert dosas, recipe below.
6. Sprinkle crushed pistachios on each serving.
Traditionally, the South Indian dosa is a crepe made with a batter of fermented rice flour and urad dal, filled with savory and spicy fillings. In my dessert version, I’ve used a basic French crepe recipe but substituted rice flour for the usual wheat flour. (This also makes this a gluten-free recipe.)
Yield: 6-8 dosas
3 large eggs
2/3 cup rice flour
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1. Whisk together first three ingredients in a bowl until well combined and light.
2. Heat a crepe pan or small non-stick frying pan over medium heat and brush with melted butter.
3. Pour two tablespoons of dosa batter into heated pan and tilt immediately to coat bottom. Cook until the edges of the dosa are lightly browned and surface appears dry, about 30 seconds.
4. Use a wide spatula to flip over dosa, and cook other side for about 5 to 10 seconds.
5. Place onto individual serving plate, and top with a few scoops of mango lassi frozen yogurt. Garnish with chopped pistachios, if desired.
© 2011 Linda Shiue
A version of this was published February 7, 2011, on Salon.