Saffron and Cardamom Lemonade
On Ranade Road in Dadar, there once sat a man who sold lemonade. Limbu Sarbat, actually—the Maharashtrian version of lemonade. On a crowded corner of a busy street, he would sit on a stool too small in proportion to his, well, vital statistics; a dirty brown Milton heat proof jug perched on another stool in front of him and a string of paper glasses hung on the side. Ranade Road is the shopping mecca of your average Marathi manoos. For a few weekends before Diwali and before the annual trip to the hometown in the summers, this part of Dadar is more flooded than ever. People busy themselves shopping for everything related to celebration and travel and spend hours in the blazing April sun bargaining with street vendors, rivers of sweat running down their foreheads and backs. In the middle of this chaos, he would sit quiet and peaceful on his insufficient stool, confident in the knowledge that they would all come to him eventually—the god of lemonade.
Amma and I would go to Dadar occasionally for an exhibition or to pick up Maharashtrian stuff (like chakka for Shrikhand; remember?) that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. Or for the madly moreish Gujarati kachoris and faraali pattice (grated coconut, peanuts, and green chilies stuffed in a potato patty) from Saurashtra. On the seemingly long walk to the bus stop at the end of a long shopping day, we would stop at the lemonade stall and shell out five rupees a glass for our share of elixir. I liked this lemonade because it was intriguingly different from the stuff we made at home. The home version was a very simple (but difficult to perfect) mix of lemon juice, sugar, salt, and water. The lemonade this guy made was a gourmet delight—it was sweet, thick, yellow (from coloring, of course) and heavily scented with cardamom. You couldn’t drink more than one glass of it for those very reasons. Sometimes, you even felt sick from the excessive sweetness a few minutes later. Yet, even today, when I’m in the hot sun and craving something cool, I always think of his lemonade. It has been ages since I walked around Dadar on foot and I wonder if he’s still there. I do like to think, however, that he is; still sitting on that stool in his tight shirt and trousers, handing out glassfuls of yellow lemonade to thirsty shoppers.
This is my version of the Marathi lemonade—it is more delicate than the one I drank as a kid in Dadar and has real saffron in it to contribute to the yellow color and subtle flavor. (My grandma, of course, scorns at it and says you can’t add saffron and cardamom in the same dish because one has heating properties and the latter has cooling properties—Ayurvedic principles I find fascinating but too restrictive!)
I make the concentrate and store it in the refrigerator for 3-4 months—throughout the summer, ready to be mixed at the smallest excuse of sultry weather.
Saffron and Cardamom Lemonade Recipe:
- 1 and ½ cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup lemon juice
- ½ tsp. cardamom powder
- 7-8 saffron strands
- Make a simple syrup by dissolving the sugar and water over low heat. Stir occasionally to ensure that it does not burn. Simmer for a minute once the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the cardamom and saffron and cool completely.
- Pour in the lemon juice and stir to mix.
- Strain and store in a sterilized bottle in the refrigerator.
To make the lemonade, pour 3 tbsp. of the concentrate in a glass. Muddle some mint leaves and sprinkle some salt. Add ice cubes and fill up with cold water. Stir and enjoy! I also like to drink this with a dash of vodka *wink.* If you’re a soda person, this works well with soda as well.