The monsoon is here, bringing with it the season of colds, coughs and sore throats.
Whenever I have a sore throat, I fall back on one of my grandmother’s traditional remedies — rock sugar to ease the soreness and sanchar nu paani, hot water with a drop of ghee, a squeeze of lime and a pinch each of turmeric, pepper, sugar and rock salt, to fight the germs.
I love the aroma of the turmeric and the flavour of the spices, but my kids don’t fancy this concoction much. So, driving past Chowpatty on evening, I hit upon a solution.
Remember that rainbow array of bottles lining the golawalla’s ice lolly stalls that you surreptitiously patronised as a child? Those silky thick, sweet, flavoured liquids that your mother tried so hard to keep you away from?
Well, there’s nothing stopping you from topping that collection with one of your own — homemade, healthy syrups that can function as beverages and herbal remedies.
Simple (or sugar) syrup is, as the name implies, very simple to make and will quickly become an essential item around both the bar and kitchen in your home.
With a little time and creativity, you can also have fragrant sweet syrups that will bring incredible flavours and possibilities to your kitchen. Try infusing the syrups with aromatics such as fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, mint, lemongrass), wet and dry spices (vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise) and citrus zest and/or juice.
As the rain pours outside, these syrups will help elevate your daily cuppa to wonderful new heights and zing up your daily cooking.
Regardless of what flavour you want to create, the requirements are pretty much the same — water and sugar in a 1:1 proportion, supplemented by whatever herbs or fruits you want infused. And this is the most
fabulous thing about syrups; not only are they simple to make, they are incredibly versatile.
Heat your water and sugar mixture, add your flavouring ingredients after the sugar has dissolved and bring to a boil. Take off the flame. Ensure the aromatics are completely submerged in the syrup and allow the mixture to steep for about half an hour (actually, I like to leave it overnight).
When completely cool, strain by pouring the syrup through a tightly woven mesh strainer and discard all solids. Bottle your syrup and you can stash it in the refrigerator for several weeks.
You can prolong the shelf life of your syrups by adding a little vodka — 1 tbsp to 1 ounce, depending on the amount of syrup. I like to add complementary flavoured vodkas to match the syrups.
These concoctions are as simple to use as they are to make. They are ideal just mixed in hot water or as substitutes for sugar.
Just add hot water to a ginger lime infusion for cup of spicy comfort to soothe that cough. Or stir some ginger-pepper syrup into your daily cuppa tea or coffee. Or try a syrup infused with cinnamon and apple juice in a hot toddy. You can add infused syrups to any hot beverage to brighten up gloomy monsoon days — cinnamon syrup to coffee, for instance, and red chilli or cardamom to hot chocolate, herbal tea and hot toddies.
You can also customise your syrups to suit the weather all year round. In summer a spearmint- or kaffir lime-flavoured syrup is ideal to add a funky twist to a mojito. Or try a green peppercorn syrup to spice up a watermelon caprioska.
Syrups are also lovely spooned over fresh fruit or warm fruit compotes. Drizzle spice-scented berry and fruit syrups over pancakes, waffles, muesli or porridge. Herb- and spice-infused syrups can also be used in sauces and gravies for salad dressings, marinades and to dress meats and fish.
And, of course, they’re perfect for desserts. Try mint-flavoured syrups over fruit salads and poached fruit desserts. Use just about anything to flavour or top ice-creams, granitas, sorbets and your own ice lollies. Drizzle spice-scented syrups over fresh-from-the-oven desserts such as tarts, crumbles and cakes or stir into frostings and glazes.
I am particularly partial to lemon-infused glaze on a lemon blueberry cake, lavender syrup over rasgullas and orange-and-anise-infused syrup on gulab jamuns.
As for the kids, inspired by my grandmothers Sanchar nu Paani, I have concocted a turmeric-and-ginger-infused syrup to help ease those aching throats.