Bright and shiny; like the sunshine that makes them mature - lemons invade Delhi's vegetable scene at the peak of summers.
Summer mornings at home always started with a freshly squeezed lemon in a glass of warm water sweetened with honey - to cleanse the system, my mom said.
We came back from school, sweaty and hot - to be handed an ice-cold glass of Shikanji - to beat the heat.
When dad returned from work in the evenings, even sweatier than us because he chose to walk the 2km stretch from the bus stop to home, he preferred his lemonade tart and spicy - with just a hint of fresh roasted cumin seeds.
My mom spent her summer afternoons pickling limes and lemons; so we had achhars that were sweet and sour; or spicy and sour or even just tart and sour - to last us all winter through. As if that wasn't enough, she sun-dried the rinds of all the lemons she squeezed; then powdered them. We sprinkled this powder in buckets filled with water for making aromatic bath water (keeps the smell of sweat away), as a face-pack mixed with a little yogurt (takes the summer tan out and leaves you with brighter skin) or even as a body exfoliant mixed with a little sandalwood powder and water.
The lemons we got back home were small, smooth skinned and shiny. I have yet to see those here in the USA. The ones we get here are larger, rough on the outside, and a little tough to squeeze - the kind that my mom called galgal and used for making one of her achhars. I rarely buy them, preferring to use the store-bought lemon juice instead.
But the devil got into me this past Memorial Day weekend. I had just come back from a refreshing, spontaneous vacation to a 3-day extended weekend that stretched out long and lazy ahead of me. Everyone at the produce store was buying lemons. So did I - to make my mom's Shikanji for Memorial day.
Cumin and mint spiced lemonade
Juice of two freshly squeezed lemons
Water 1 liter
Sugar 8 Tbsp
Rock salt, kala namak 1/2Tbsp
A bit of fresh roasted cumin and shredded fresh mint leaves.
I dissolve the sugar first in water at room temperature. It takes longer if you use cold water. Then mix in the salt, lemon juice, roasted jeera powder and shredded mint. Taste, adjust and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before using.
I don't use ice cubes because it tends to dilute the taste. If you want, you can freeze some of the lemonade itself into cubes to use while serving.
My two cents: The Indian Shikanji is miles away from the American lemonade. It isn't as sweet and has the salt and sugar mix in the perfect 1:8 electrolyte ratio to revive you from the heat of Delhi summers. The lemon juice was almost medicinal in the malaria and cholera infested Indian summers. It was also the cheapest source of Vitamin C at that time. Plus you can personalize Shikanji as you want with the spices. Roasted cumin and mint are my favorite- but you get spice mixes such as jaljeera mix that are delicious as well.
So go on…when life hands you lemons….make a refreshing glass of Shikanji out of it!