We've all probably tried a mango lassi at our favorite Indian restaurant, but have you ever tasted a papaya lassi? Full of sweetness and tang, this dreamy drink will cool you off and transport you to the subcontinent. Acha! (Hindi for 'All right!').
I grew up ordering mango lassis anywhere I could find them. I loved their electric yellow color and the velvety texture of blended fruit and yogurt. It wasn't until I spent six months living in India that I realized lassis come in a variety of flavors, styles and incorporate seasonal fruits whenever possible.
Being in Southern India from August to early spring, when papayas were flourishing, there was hardly a mango to be found. Af first, I was disappointed, I came all the way to India and I would be missing mango season, which usually occurs between May through July. All that mango–deprived sadness was forgotten the moment I took one bite into a ripe, juicy papaya and my tropical fruit allegiance was shifted entirely. The papayas in India are a revelatory experience. Their texture is dense, and juicy, their flavor floral and rich. Cutting into a perfectly-ripened papaya, it's aromatic seeds gleaming, is just lovely. Add a sprinkle of lime juice and that's it, your mind will be blown.
The next best way to eat a papaya is blended into a lassi. Mango is found everywhere, but most restaurants in India and elsewhere, use canned mango pulp. This pulp is tasty, but full of added sweeteners. In India, papaya lassis are made with fresh, local fruits and their flavor is more subtly rosy than it's mango counterpart. I came to prefer the papaya lassi while I was there and continue to make this delicious yogurt/fruit drink here in the US. I've found some great papayas in my grocery over the past few months and let them ripen until they're fragrant and soft. Sometimes it will be a week and a half before I cut into one. A juicy, ripe papaya is worth waiting for. This papaya lassi is great as a snack and fantastic accompanying any spicy foods. It will calm heat and is great for digestion.
I was taught to prepare this lassi by the owner of an Inn in Panjim, Goa. She recommended the pinch of cardamom and its subtle flavor really adds dimensionality to this simple recipe.
Have you had a papaya lassi before?
heaping cup fresh papaya, cut into rough chunks
1 heaping tablespoon sugar, honey or agave (I used agave syrup)
Place all ingredients into a blender and pulse until combined. Pour into chilled glasses and refrigerate for a about 10 minutes before serving. Keeps well covered for about a day.
This recipe is easily adaptable to most any fruit. You can use banana or mango (or berries are great, not traditional in Indian dishes) with great results.
Related: DIY Mango Lassi
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)