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JALJEERA: THE OUTSIDE SCHOOL TREAT FILLED WITH GOODNESS

Seasoned experts on why you should be making a glass or two every other week this summer.


By Madhulika Dash; Photograph courtesy: aroma_portraits

For mind reclamation specialist Monalisa Kar, the mention about jaljeera brings in memories of these large earthen pots filled with tangy goodness that was served chilled in a glass with a dash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. The first glug was the most invigorating with the definite spicy hit, recalls the mother of two, who would spend a generous part of her pocket money on this sweet-sour-spicy drink for the sheer palate feel and coolness, and by her self-admission even do it today, willingly. There is something amazing about this home-bred beverage that not only is great on the tongue but has this amazing feeling within too, says Monalisa, who has often rued the disappearance of the familiar jaljeera stand, and even attempt making her own jaljeera mix and yet “it isn’t close to nostalgia.”


Incidentally, it is a gripe that many growing in the late 80s and 70s have, despite of the fact that jaljeera today – both the masala and the drink powder – come in form of these cute packets which makes making jaljeera at home, a breeze. But then those who have tasted the real deal remain inconvenienced and unsatiated. “It is like imli ka pani or saunth ki chutney that can be never commercialized,” says Chef Sharad Dewan (Regional Director, Food Production, The Park Hotels), who spent a good number of his early life indulging in the summer treat, not just on the roadside but home as well. “It is a ritual at home to have the jaljeera once a week, and often was served once we were back from our morning round of playing,” recalls Chef Dewan, who learned how to make the masala from his granny and over the years has been able to evolve it to his taste, “at least close to what I like.” When it comes to the taste, continues the seasoned culinary mind, “the reason, I feel, why the ones made by my granny or the street side vendor score high isn’t just the masala or the ratio in which it is added – a desi jaljeera masala has cumin, black salt, pepper, chilli, cooking salt, ginger powder, mint (although I use the fresh leaves) and dried mango. Of course, the sequence differs from one place to another – but also the water it is made, the resting period, the vessel used and most importantly the temperature it is served in.”


Adds Chef Dewan, “the brilliance of jaljeera is while it tastes good freshly made, it takes on an elevated mouthfeel when it is served after a while – say made in the morning and served post lunch – but a lot of the “palate feel” of the jajeera comes from the vessel it is stored in like a clay pot that allows the concoctions to breathe while providing instant coolness with wet cloth wrapped around it. Of course, how it is served also makes that change in perception. In my case, it has been a glass rimmed with salt, mint crushed and a dash of lime (depending on individual taste) that does the trick, admits Chef Dewan, who prefers roasting the cumin for better impact.

But why is it that jaljeera has such a wide sense of appeal? First, says Chef Dewan, “is of course the concentration of salt, mineral and souring agents like dried mango powder or aamchur. In summers, when the body is habitual to losing salt and mineral constantly, the need of these increases. And jaljeera is one of the few ways – others being chutney – where you can take more of these salts (and masalas) vis a vis in curries, where they can potentially turn the dish inedible. The other reason is the change in the palate, which is moving towards more summer kind of subtle flavours as compared to the fat-laden ones during winters. Fascinatingly, says nutritional therapist and coach Sveta Bhassin, “the role of the spice mix, especially the use of cumin along with salt goes much beyond the sense of coolness and the replenishment of the minerals that is required to keep muscle cramps at bay. The spice mix works at keeping the temperature of the body at a level that is both conducive for digestion as well as to beat any acidity of gas formation. The fact that the spice mix has been diluted in water makes it easy to assimilate in the body and fast-acting, this is the reason that one feels instantly satiated with the very first sip and revived by the end of it. That aside, the addition of black salt – which is low in sodium and high in zinc and magnesium among others helps the liver and the gut to enable quicker breakdown of protein and another component thereby evading any possible acid influx in the body.”


But what is fascinating about jaljeera, continues Bhassin, “is its combination of dry mango, ginger powder/ slivers and mint is that together they not only give Vitamin C a boost, which is good for your respiratory system as well, but also the warmth to balance the circadian rhythm with cumin acting as a brain soother. In effect, jaljeera during a hot summer day (especially afternoon) almost mirrors the goodness of kheer in the morning in the sense of calming the stomach, which according to Ayurveda is the ‘root of good health’.”

In fact, Bhassin even okays the once-a-while addition of soda to jaljeera and rates is far, far better than other carbonated drinks. However, she cautions, “given the spice mix, it is best to have it once and twice a week, and go less on the salt, if sodium is one of the worries.” Till then, say the experts, “glug on.”