Beyond Curry: Spiced Indian Yogurt (Chaas)

2014.09.03 Chaas-Mildly Spiced Buttermilk.jpg
Prasanna Sankhe

Indians love big meals, and plates usually brim over with many different dishes. Fortunately, we also know how to recover from the perils of gluttony and greed, thanks to the ancient wisdom of Aryurveda, traditional Indian medicine that finds its way into our every day lives by way of small home remedies.

Chaas is a cooling drink for your digestive system that basically uses plain yogurt, mildly flavored with spices, herbs, and a special salt called kala namak (black salt), which does wonders for your digestion. If you have a bout of heartburn, this drink will settle things in minutes. I like making chaas, big meal or not, because it keeps me feeling light and refreshed on any given day.

That said, kala namak takes some getting used to. Or, at least the smell does. But it's just the initial whiff—the eggy smell is due to the salt's mineral and sulfur compounds. If you've just turned vegan and miss your eggs, a light sprinkling of Black Salt on your tofu scramble will help mimic the flavor. It's also a component of chaat masala powders that add a zing to Indian street food and chicken tikkas. A little kala namak sprinkled on a plate of freshly cut fruit is a deliciously different way to eat your morning fruit bowl.

This is not to say that chaas reeks. It doesn't. Chaas should be mildly salted and spiced; once it's incorporated into your food, black salt is pleasant and subtle. Most combine it with regular kosher salt in the drink, according to taste. The toasted, ground cumin and fresh cilantro in the mix are also thought to aid digestion. As for the serrano peppers that give this beverage its heat? If you're sensitive to spicy foods, you can reduce the amount or leave them out altogether, replacing the hot peppers with a teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper, instead.

Chaas has many regional variations, and some recipes also use a tempering of whole mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves. This version is a basic recipe that I gravitate to largely thanks to its mildness—it's a refreshing finish to any meal.