It is that time of the year when you make mango pickles, vattals and vadams in Chennai. Since ayurvedic vaidyars generally do not encourage you to eat hot pickles, I usually make good use of the scorching heat to make amla candy. Amla is a favourite with our vaidyars and is found in many traditional formulations. I get organically-grown amlas from my farm and convert kilos of it into candy to share with my friends and relatives.
It is a pity that the goodness of amla and its wonderful properties that contribute to our health and well-being are still lost to many Indians. We look for Vitamin C in ‘fresh’ orange juice in tetra packs, in juice that has been processed, treated and frozen, and many months old. The oranges have probably been grown with the maximum of chemical inputs, including pesticides, and then we wonder why cancer is on the rise.
Making gooseberry or amla candy is a cinch. As far as possible, get organically-grown amla. Since the tree is not very susceptible to pests, it is very likely that the farmer has not used a whole lot of pesticides. Buy a kilo of amla. Get undamaged fruits as far as possible. In case there are damaged portions, just cut it out.
Put enough water to just cover the gooseberries, say about four to five cups and bring it to boil. Once the water starts boiling, drop the amlas gently into the boiling water. The water will stop boiling. Once the water starts to boil again, keep the heat on for another two or three minutes. Switch off the gas flame and cover with a lid for 10 to 15 minutes. The amla should not be over-boiled, nor should it be difficult to separate it into segments. After about 10 or 15 minutes, fish one gooseberry out with a spoon; it will be hot. Use a cloth and press the top and bottom of the fruit. If it is cooked enough, the amla will separate from the stone and fall apart into segments. Each fruit has six segments. Once you have segmented all the fruits, throw away the stones and gather the segments into a vessel. Cover all the pieces with 650 grams of ordinary sugar. There is no need to shake it or mix it. By evening, the sugar would have liquefied and the fruit segments will be floating in the liquid sugar. Leave the amla in the sugar solution for three days. On the fourth day, filter out the sugar water and arrange the pieces on a plate, cover with a thin piece of cloth and sun-dry them. You can dry the amla for about one-and-a-half to two days. If you plan to eat up the candy quickly and like your candy soft, dry it for a day-and-a-half only. If you plan to store it for a longer period, dry it for two days. The amla should not be bone dry. It should have a little flex. Once you are comfortable with the dryness of the amla, powder about 50 grams of sugar and dust the dried segments with it. If your amla is dry enough, the candy will not ooze water. Those who like the amla a little spicy and tangy, you can add black pepper, black salt, chaat masala and aamchur, etc. Add it only to the quantity you plan to eat immediately as the salt may make the candy ooze water and this could affect its quality. Amla candy is wonderful for grown-ups and children. And if children can eat six to 10 pieces a day, nothing else would be healthier for them. This alone will help build immunity against various diseases.
Yet another summer cooler in Chennai is what we call neer mor, a variation of the north Indian lassi. This is a boon for dieters as it contains very few calories or carbohydrates, is an excellent thirst-quencher, besides being a healthy probiotic drink full of beneficial bacteria.
Take about two tablespoons of curd from which the butter fat has been removed. Add 1/2 cup water, 10 mint leaves, six sprigs of coriander, a quarter piece of chilly, 1/4 inch of peeled ginger, a quarter teaspoon of asafoetida and a small spoon of salt. Mix in blender and filter. To this, add another three-and-a-half cups of chilled water. Serve in tall glasses. The pleasant green-coloured drink is a treat to the senses and the palate. Enjoy the summer and keep cool.
The writer was earlier Health Secretary, Tamil Nadu, and is currently Additional Chief Secretary, and Chairman and MD, Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation. She can be reached at Sheelarani.firstname.lastname@example.org.