Holi, the festival of spring, falls on March 25 this year. It isn't traditionally celebrated in Chennai -- it's a northern festival -- but if you drive in parts of the city where north Indians congregate, you may see some of them on the street, throwing coloured powders at each other. The red dye remains one one's face and hands for a day or two, so you can tell who's been playing Holi.

I love thandai, a cool, sweet/spicy drink which is associated with Holi, but which can be made at any time. Tarla Dalal has sent out a recipe for it in her weekly recipe email, so I reproduce it here. In the north, it is acceptable to consume bhang (cannabis Indica) on festive occasions such as Holi. But smoking it is not acceptable -- it's for hippies or drug addicts, not respectable middle-class people. You must eat a goli of it -- a ball made of bhang and some sugar, and god knows what -- or mix it in thandai. Eating / drinking bhang always seems to me to be an inefficient way of consuming it. But it's part of a social occasion -- you're supposed to get together with friends, and eat fried snacks, tell jokes and laugh a lot -- or play Holi.
THANDAI (by Tarla Dalal)

Thandai is a very popular drink in Rajasthan. This famous dry fruit and saffron flavoured milk that is traditionally prepared as an offering to Lord Shiva during the festival of Mahashivratri. Thandai is popular all over North India as well. It is often mixed with 'bhang' to make an intoxicating drink.

Cooking Time : Nil.
Preparation Time : 3 to 4 hours.

Makes 6 glasses.

1 litre full fat milk
½ cup powdered sugar
10 to 12 peppercorns
a few saffron strands

To be ground into a fine powder

¼ cup almonds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds (khus khus)
2 tablespoons fennel seeds (saunf)
½ teaspoon cardamom (elaichi) powder
20 nos. white peppercorns

1. Boil the milk and allow it to cool completely. Keep aside.
2. Add the ground powder and mix well. Refrigerate the mixture for 3 to 4 hours.
3. Strain the mixture through a sieve, add the sugar, peppercorns and saffron and mix well.
4. Serve chilled.

Note: My sister-in-law, Charu Gandhi, adds: When you sink a copper coin and let it leach a bit in to a Bhang-laced Thandai it really gets potent. (Although, I have never tried it that way, let alone with Bhang.) When I made Thandai in India, I did not add Saffron; instead, added fresh Rose(Indian roses which are so fragrant) petals. There are other seeds I use to add, I have forgotten the name. It may be called pappita or some such name. They are white almond shaped but thinner and smaller. Try it with Rose Petals if you get them, or you can add Rose water.

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