D and I recently rewatched all seven seasons of The West Wing, start to finish. We loved it when it aired, we’ve loved it the other five or so times we’ve watched it, and I gotta say, the show stands the test of time. Late in season 7, it dawned on me that I’d spent days – nay, weeks – of my life watching that show. For sanity’s sake, I decided not to calculate how much of my life I’ve wasted watching tv in general, and instead declared that as soon as West Wing was done, The Year of Reading would commence. A cleanse of sorts: less tv, more books. The Year started at the perfect time, since spring is in full bloom and our deck is a positively joyful place to relax after a long day or whittle away a weekend morning. So far, I’ve made my way through Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (a wonderful book of short stories by Alice Munro, highly recommended); The Imperfectionists, about journalists in Rome, which I also loved; and The Lowland, Jumpa Lahiri’s latest. I’m working my way through The Goldfinch now, and it feels like a winner. Next up: another Alice Munro book, The View from Castle Rock.
We got smart this year and planted our mint in the front of the house, where we get loads of sunlight. The stuff is like a weed, and so far, I can’t get enough. We did plant one pineapple mint plant out back, since it’s a shade lover, and it’s done great even with minimal sunlight; if you’ve got a shady outdoor area, I recommend it. The picture above is my first harvest of the stuff, and it’s mildly minty and quite lovely.
One of these days, our beautiful spring will turn to summer. It may not be hot yet, but DC summer sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting it. This year, I’m coming into June prepared. I’ve got a summer’s worth of cold, not-so-fussy drinks that can stand up to even the most energy-zapping heat. In case you’re already weathering the heat and humidity, here’s drink the first: a sort-of traditional savory lassi with mint.
Mango lassi was my first love, but in adulthood, I’ve come around to the virtues of the savory yogurt beverage. When we visited Istanbul back in 2007, Ayran was our daily companion. It’s basically a thin, salty yogurt drink, and people swear by it as a hangover cure. A while ago, a friend got one of those juicer contraptions and made me a savory avocado-yogurt smoothie, which was a bit on the why-is-this-not-solid side, but still tasty. But lassis are my favorite. They’re not only savory, they’re spiced — that is, if you’re bold enough to toss some mustard seeds into your drinking glass.
(This seems like the right place to mention that the first couple times I made this, I dumped the toasted spices straight into the yogurt, as you see above. That’s fine, but it results in a less-than-smooth lassi. I’ve taken to grinding them before adding, which makes for a smooth, clean drink.) If the spices-in-your-drink concept freaks you out, I’d gently nudge you to take a leap of faith. They’re an understated addition to the glass. It’s nothing like drinking curry. Really, it’s a refreshing, non-sweet drink that takes the edge off of summer.
Now I’m rambling; may be time for another glass.
Savory Mint Lassi
Adapted from Melissa Clark
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sheep’s milk yogurt or plain tangy yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
pinch of any or all of the following, as available: nigella seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds (all optional)
1/4 cup mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
zest of 1 lime
juice from 1 small lime wedge
pinch brown sugar
In a small dry saute pan, heat the seeds (cumin and any others you’re using) until they start to pop. Then grind them in a spice grinder, or crush in a mortar and pestle. You can skip the grinding step, but your seeds will stay a bit chunky in the lassi.
Combine all ingredients (start with just 1/4 teaspoon of salt) in a blender and blend until smooth. Alternatively, place all ingredients in a large jar and use an immersion blender to blend. Add a couple tablespoons of water if you’re having trouble getting the mixture to emulsify.
Taste lassi, and add more salt and/or lime juice to taste. Serve in tall glasses over ice.