Thandai: An Indian festive drink

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Tommorrow is Holi, the festival of colours! Indian festivals like Holi and Shivratri are incomplete without this refreshing beverage called Thandai, which is extremely popular in North and Central India. The thandai drink is a beautiful combination of various kinds of nuts, saffron (called kesar or zaffran), milk, rose, a hint of spices and white poppy seeds (called khuskhus in Hindi). This beverage, when served chilled, has a magical effect on your tastebuds: with every sip you will feel that the subtle smell of rose and the saffron is calming you down and relaxing your senses, while the assorted nut paste mixed with just the right amount of spices add a sense of fullness and satisfaction. Such is the power of this wonderful festive beverage from India!

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Generally, bhang is added to this traditional drink during Holi, which has an intoxicating effect. But bhang is optional, and I would totally avoid this ingredient. If bhangballs are added to this thandai, then it is called bhang ki thandai or Sardai.

Some points to note before you begin:
  • Adding full-cream, chilled milk to this beverage is highly recommended. But for a Vegan version, just replace the milk with drinking water or soy milk.
  • Black peppercorns add a distinct spicy flavor to this sweet festive beverage from India. Please don’t omit this ingredient for the sake of authenticity.
  • Traditionally, fresh or dried rose petals are added. Alternately, you can add good-quality commercially available rose syrup, as I have done here.
  • Ideally, you should use melon seeds, so I have mentioned it in this recipe. But if you don’t find these at the last moment, like in my case, don’t panic. Just increase the amounts of almonds and cashewnuts to compensate for the ½ cup of melon seeds, as I did.
  • You can always add the optional ingredient called bhang (a traditional intoxicant used in thandai, especially during Holi) to add fun to this drink. I did not add this, however.

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Thandai: An Indian festive drink

  • Almonds (blanched and peeled): ½ cup
  • Cashewnuts: ½ cup
  • Fennel seeds: 1.5 tbsp
  • Good-quality rose syrup: 2 tbsp
  • Black peppercorns: 15
  • White poppy seeds (khuskhus): ½ cup
  • Melon seeds (magaz): ½ cup
  • Green cardamoms (choti elaichi): 30 (peels not needed)
  • Pistachios (blanched and peeled): 40 (plus a few more thinly chopped ones for garnishing)
  • Saffron strands (for garnishing): few
  • Drinking water: ½ cup
  • Sugar: 1 cup
  • Full-cream milk: 1 litre

Boil the milk. Simmer and add the sugar. Stir continuously, till the sugar dissolves. Switch off the gas and let the milk cool at room temperature. Refrigerate for atleast 1 hour.

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Grind cashewnuts, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, white poppy seeds, melon seeds, green cardamom seeds and pistachios to a very fine paste, by mixing ½ cup of water (in batches) and rose syrup. Add the almonds and grind again to a very fine paste.

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Store this thandaipaste in the refrigerator an airtight container.

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To serve, add about 2-3 tbsp of the paste in a medium-sized serving glass, fill up to the top with the chilled milk and garnish with chopped pistachios and saffron strands.

holi thandai with kids

Happy Holi to all my readers! Please play a waterless Holi and save precious water.

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