drink up a mango or salted chile lassi from haveli indian restaurant on a hot day photo by carmen troesser

Drink up a lassi and keep your cool

Long before Americans started loading blenders with low-fat yogurt and the superfood of the moment, drinkable yogurt had been a mainstay in many cultures for centuries. Thanks to the diversity of cuisine in St. Louis, you don’t need to hop a plane to India or Istanbul (not Constantinople) to get a cool old-school sip for a humid summer day.

The lassi is a yogurt drink that hails from India and is a perfect chaser for fiery curries. “It calms the spice in the stomach because it’s a milk product,” said Hema Patel, owner of Haveli Indian Restaurant. “It fits with the design of the meal because it cools and fights the heat of some Indian food.”

Although traditionally flavored with rose water, Haveli’s lassis don’t include it. To soothe your lamb vindaloo burn at Haveli, choose from one of four flavors: mango (its most popular), sweet, salted and salted chile. Almost as thick as a milkshake, most of the restaurant’s lassis put out the fire, but one brings the heat.

The sweet lassi allows the tartness of the yogurt to shine with a touch of added sugar to finish. If you prefer heat to sweet, order Haveli’s salted chile lassi. Fresh cilantro, green chiles, roasted cumin seeds and salt blend up into a spicy, creamy sip with a punch of heat on the middle of your palate.

For the mango lassi, Patel blends tangy, house-made yogurt with mango pulp and sugar for a summery orange-colored drink loaded with tropical flavor. Lassis are available at many other local Indian restaurants, or pick up a mango one at Bombay Food Junkies’ food truck.

At Aya Sofia in Lindenwood Park, chef-owner Mehmet Yildiz serves up ayran, a staple in his native Turkey. The mixture of house-made yogurt, water and salt has the consistency of buttermilk. Each sip has a refreshing zing with a light salinity to finish. “Everyone makes it in Turkey,” Yildiz said. “People give it to kids before they go to bed because it helps them sleep.” Order a house-made ayran at Aya Sofia or grab a bottle at Sheesh Restaurant on South Grand.

Similar to the Turkish ayran, the Afghan dough (or doogh in Persia) is a mixture of yogurt and water with the addition of mint and sometimes cucumber. At Sameem Afghan Restaurant, the mix is spiked with dried mint and served over ice. The flavor is similar to ayran but with a milder tang and a light, minty finish. Add diced cucumber for an extra cooling flavor note.

Sameem owner Fahime Mohammad emphasized the balance that dough brings to a spicy meal. He suggested taking a drink after each bite to complement and cool the burn and to take a larger gulp rather than sipping to taste the full flavor and complexity of the dough.

“When you sip, you taste with the tip of your tongue, and it can taste too sour,” Mohammad said. “If you take a bigger gulp, you taste the whole drink with the middle to back of your tongue.”

Whip up your own yogurt-based drinks at home. To make a mango lassi, Patel suggested using a blender to combine two parts yogurt, one part mango pulp or puree and sugar to taste.

Haveli Indian Restaurant
9720 Page Ave., Olivette, 314.423.7300 

Bombay Food Junkies
3580 Adie Road, St. Ann, 573.578.6583

Aya Sofia
6671 Chippewa St., St. Louis, 314.645.9919

Sheesh Restaurant
3226 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.833.4321

Sameem Afghan Restaurant
4341 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.534.9500

Tags : Cocktails, Places