James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Yeah, Why Aren’t Vodka Shots With Unripe Mango Juice Already a Thing?

Yeah, Why Aren’t Vodka Shots With Unripe Mango Juice Already a Thing?

Mango juice in Konkan

Aam meethe hon aur bohot hon.” Mangoes should be sweet and plentiful. So said the legendary Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.

As someone who spent entire summers on her grandparents’ farm feasting on freshly plucked mangoes for dinner, I would say I completely relate to Ghalib’s sentiments. But my love for sweet mangoes does not dilute my fondness for the unripe ones.

Ripe mangoes leave you with sweet longing after only a few months, but the sour kairis (unripe mangoes) turn into pickles and chutneys that keep you company at meals through the year. The salted slices of unripe mangoes that my mother would keep in the sun to be dried for pickles became my late-afternoon snack. The enticing jars of mango pickles kept out of our reach were the first lesson in teamwork for my sister and I. As she daringly climbed up the shelves to steal a few slices, I was assigned the duty of doorkeeper.

And then there was mango panna—India’s answer to lemonade. This sweet, sour, and salty drink, made with kairis, was a mainstay in the kitchen, the key to fighting the killer heatwave of northern India. We would drink one before leaving the house and drink another after returning.

We had a concentrate sitting in the refrigerator at all times. The boiled mangoes would be pulped and mixed with pudina (mint leaves), sugar, rock salt, and cumin powder. This concentrate, with water poured on top, worked as an instant cooler.

In my adult life, these mixes became more age-appropriate. As a teen all I could do was top the concentrate with soda instead of water, but as an adult I could take the liberty of adding a shot of vodka, wondering why kairi panna and vodka shots weren’t already a thing.

In Mumbai, the recipe for panna is a little different. The sour-and-savory drink is sweeter, like a sherbet. The flavor changes, but the cooling effect remains the same. Last year, during a trip to the Konkan region of Maharashtra, I came across an aam panna recipe completely different from what I grew up drinking. The Konkanastha Brahmins—a community in this region—grate the mango instead of boiling and pulping it, and blend it with saunf (fennel) and sugar. There’s a raw taste to this version, taken a few notches up by the sharp taste of saunf.

A glass of aam panna will protect you from the heatwave, aid digestion, and cool you down. To me, aam panna is a superhero of drinks.

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