Many years ago, on my first India trip, I stayed for several days in the city of Jaipur – The Pink City of Rajasthan. I recall walking for hours, mesmerized by the people and the loud colors and fantastic, flowing saris and shirts. I was constantly taking photographs. I remember riding with insane auto-rickshaw drivers along the crowded, dusty streets, weaving around pedestrians, bicycles, beggars, and cows. Just like in all the books and movies.
I’d only been in India for a few weeks at that point, and I was still very much in New Arrival Mode: The first two to four weeks of being in India – everything is an overwhelming assault on the senses. You’re in near-constant amazement at how wild and vivid life can be. The circus and overloaded charm fade (somewhat) after a few weeks, but usually one or more things happen every day that remind you: you’re in a very different world.
Next to only perhaps seeing the Hawa Mahal, and trekking around some of the old forts, my favorite experience in Jaipur was at a small café that was famous for their saffron lassi. I remember retreating from the hot sun into the shade with my journal and heavily marked-up guidebook, sliding my tired self into a plastic chair, and sipping this amazing, glowing, pink-orange chilled treat. The flavor was intense, exotic, new to me. That fresh saffron lassi straight from the fridge was the best thing in that moment. I contemplated how many I would need to order and drink before it would be too much. I stayed long enough to need a second one, and then got on my way of exploring the streets further.
For something so simple, it’s hard to believe it took me so many years to figure out how to make a good lassi. The secret is the right combination of soy yogurt, water, and ice cubes. I think I’ve got it down good now, so I’m ready to pass on the recipe for my all-vegan rendition of the Indian classic yogurt shake.
Of course, you can make lassi without saffron and increase the mango if you want a more intense fruit flavor. I personally love the taste of saffron and the hint of rose. Feel free to experiment and come up with your best lassi. If you’re really feeling adventurous: try out some of the savoury variations I’ve listed below.
Vegan Lassi – with Saffron & Mango
serves 2 / time: 10 min (+chilling time)
- 1 cup soy yogurt (vanilla or plain)
- 1/2 cup fresh mango or mango pulp
- 3-4 ice cubes
- 2 Tbs sugar or agave syrup (adjust according to yogurt sweetness)
- 1/4 tspn rose water OPTIONAL
- pinch cardamom ground OPTIONAL
- 6-8 saffron threads
- 1/4 cup water
- mint leaves for garnish
- Boil 1/4 cup water and transfer to small bowl.
- Soak saffron threads in water for 30 min.
- In small food processor or blender, blend soy yogurt, mango, ice cubes, sugar, rose water, cardamom.
- Add saffron + water (or just water) and continue to blend until smooth. Add slightly more water if necessary to get desired consistency.
- For best results, chill for one hour.
- Serve in two chilled glasses with fresh mint for garnish.
No saffron in the house: Skip steps 1+2, use cold water for step 4. No rose water or cardamom: admittedly, not for everyone. Simply omit. Savory Indian vegan lassi: Skip steps 1+2. Omit mango, sugar, rose water. Use cold water and plain yogurt. Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of fresh ground cumin. Garnish with a splash of tamarind mixed with agave or maple syrup.