Buttermilk: Just A Few Buttermilk Churns Short Of Ambrosia

 

Healing, calming and precious, it is a revered leftover with many names. Ratna Rajaiah pays a tribute. 

 

Sip it sweet, glug it salted, slurp it laced with all manner of masalas, from ginger and jeera to curry leaves and hing. Sip it thick enough to give you a moustache, glug it thin enough, the neer majjige (“water buttermilk” in Kannada). Sip it before a meal or all through a meal (as King Someshwara III, the Chalukya king did at his royal banquets) or then, mix it with rice and slurp it as the grand finale to a summer lunch, as every self-respecting South Indian would do, every now and then.

And then sleep the siesta of the man who’s sold all his horses.

In English, they call it buttermilk.

For much of the world, it refers to the liquid leftover after churning out the butter from fermented cream. Occasionally used to leaven bread, even more occasionally, cake. And sometimes used to freckle-and-wrinkle fader. So, a piffling by-product really, fit to be fed to the cows.

We Indians know better and for us, buttermilk is just a few buttermilk churns short of ambrosia. So revered that it is mentioned in the Rigveda and the Yajurveda, it is both prasadam and the drink served to celebrate Ram Navami and is one of the foods that Buddhist monks are allowed to have according to their food strictures. So precious, that in pre-Aryan South India (third and early second millennium BC), it was currency used to barter for other foods like rice. So full of healing that physicians new and old use it as cures. In Ayurveda, it is the main ingredient in two well-known treatments, one of which is takradhara (takra means buttermilk), used to calm the mind and treat insomnia, depression and other stress-related problems and modern day paediatricians reccommend it as oral rehydration in children’s diarrhoea.

And it comes in two avatars.

Avatar 1. The “lazy” version, or lassi as they say in Hindi. When you just whip up some curd, add water and season it as you like it. (With salt. Or sugar. Or mango. Or some have even known to go as far as with bhang…)

Avatar 2.  Also known as chaas. Or moru. Or majjige. Or mattha. Or tak. Or ghol. Or the liquid left after you churn full cream curd till the butter rises up gently in thick, golden globs. Just as the Goddess Laxmi comes to answer the prayers of the devout — not my analogy but that of the great Purandaradasa.

 

‘Sowbhayda Lakshmi baaramma

Sajjana sadhu poojeya velege

Majjige volagina benne yante

Bhagyalakshmi baramma’.

 

Now most people either just drink buttermilk or then turn it into a kadhi. But, as with almost everything in Indian cooking, there are kadhis and there are kadhis. Some, time-tested clichés. Some, roads less travelled. And here are two of the latter. They require no or almost very little cooking.

No-Cook There’s-a-chutney-in-your-buttermilk Kadhi.

Works best with buttermilk, the way my grandma made it, out of full cream milk that had been left to thicken and reduce over a slow, smouldering wood fire, then set into curd and finally churned into buttermilk. Just make sure that the buttermilk is very thick.

(Serves 3-4)

Ingredients

½-3/4 litre buttermilk

¼ fresh coconut

2-3 dried chillies, charred on a hot tawa

½ piece of ginger

(Adjust the ginger and chilli to how gingery/mild you like the curry to be)

Salt to taste

Tempering

1 tablespoon oil

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ a dried red chilli, broken into pieces

5-7 curry leaves

A pinch or two of asafoetida

Method

Grind together all ingredients, except the buttermilk, salt and tempering ingredients into a smooth, chutney-like paste, adding the ginger last. Add to the buttermilk along with the salt and stir well. Heat the oil; add mustard seeds and red chilli. When the mustard stops spluttering, add the curry leaves and asafoetida. Take off the fire and add to the buttermilk mixture. Stir well again.

No-cook there-are-pakoras-in-my-buttermilk Kadhi

Serves 3-4

For the pakoras

1 cup moong dal washed and soaked for about 3 pours (if you like less vadis in your kadhis, you can serve the rest plain with chutney)

1-2 green chillis

½ inch ginger

2 pinches of aesfoetida

Salt to taste

1 small onion chopped fine (optional)

2 teaspoons finely chopped coriander

Oil for deep frying

For the kadhi — 

½-3/4 litre thin buttermilk (yes, reverse of what you need in the first recipe)

½ inch ginger, smashed

1-2 chilis, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped coriander

Salt to taste

To make the pakoras — 

Grind all the ingredients for the pakora except the onion and the fresh coriander to a thick, coarse paste. Add the onion and coriander and mix well. Shape into small balls. Heat oil in a kadhai and when it is really hot, drop the pakoras gently in. Fry till light golden brown. Set aside to drain and cool.

To make the kadhi — 

Add all ingredients to the buttermilk and mix well. Taste and adjust (you can add a tadka for an extra zing). Now add the pakoras to the kadhi. Allow stand for about ½ hour or till the pakoras swell and soften. Serve with plain steamed rice.

 

— Ratna Rajaiah is an author and a columnist. She lives and cooks in Mysore.

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Comments

  • Ghasi Ram

    It is my favourite drink. I am extremely disappointed that the Amul buttermilk packets(Rs.10-11 per 500ml) that is available in north India(Delhi/Agra) is not available in Hyderabad. I so much crave for it. It is so sad. I have to buy expensive Rs. 25 for 500 ml tetra packs in its absence.