Nimbu paani or Paanaka, the traditional Indian lemonade has been the go to beverage for Indians to beat the scorching summer heat from times immemorial. Raspberry Lemonade and Meyer Lemon Paanaka recipes have been a huge hit as summer drinks in our house and among friends.
While I loved making lemonades when life gave me Meyer Lemons, I had always missed Citrons (aka Herale Hannu in Kannada, Narthangai in Tamil and Dabbakaya in Telugu) when in Houston. The closest find was Ugli fruit (named apparently after its appearance) which as I learnt is a hybrid of pomelo, orange and tangerine.
Well, life may give you lemons, but life does not give you Citrons that easily. You have to go in search of them as they aren’t as widely available as the yellow lemon. This exceptional variety of lime is known both for its medicinal properties as well as uses in cuisine. Now that I am living in Bengaluru, I feel elated when I find the fruit I have missed for so long at the local markets.
The citron lime is roughly four times the size of an average lemon, is dark green to yellowish dark green in color and appears rougher, is less juicy and has a thicker skin and pith inside. It is widely used in South Indian cuisine.
I consider myself lucky to have grown up eating HeraLekayi Gojju (a tangy relish made by simmering finely chopped Citron in tamarind sauce and spices), HeraLekayi Uppinakayi (tangy pickles soaking quartered pieces in its own juice along with salt, fenugreek powder and red chili powder), HeraLe hannu Chitranna (a flovored rice) as well as this Paanaka (drink) that I am going to share the recipe for. My then nonagenarian grand aunt who is no more now, would bring bottles of pickles and Gojju (relish) for us to happily devour away. For those who are uninitiated though, it might come across as an acquired taste as besides being tangy like lemon, it is bitter and partly astringent too.
And for the very same reasons, it is also very good to reduce Pittha, the heat energy (one among the 3 doshas or biological energies – Vaatha, Pittha and Kapha) as per Ayurveda.
Citron Limeade hence makes for a great drink and a summer cooler from the inside out. It helps in alleviating the symptoms of Pittha such as heat rashes, giddiness and nausea. Since it is also rich in vitamin C similar to all the other citrus fruits, citron lime enhances immunity and helps the body fight off infections. Taken with honey, it can rejuvenate the body. Hence, the Paanaka is sweetened with honey along with jaggery. The visually pleasing sunset orange color of the Paanaka is due to the mix of Saffron and jaggery.
Use the recipe as a guide to find out what you like and then make your own.
I never miss an opportunity to include Citron in our everyday culinary use in any which way possible – savory or sweet. So should you. Now that you know how to make a super yummy Paanaka.
- 4 medium size Herale Hannu / smooth skinned Citron (makes about 1/2 cup juice)
- 1 cup grated dark brown jaggery
- 3- 1/2 cups drinking water
- 1 tsp lemon juice (1/2 small lemon)
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, skinned and ground to paste
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp honey
- big pinch of salt
- 2-3 pods cardamom, ground
- pinch of saffron powdered in a mortar and pestle
- citrus juicer ~ optional
Wash the Citrons and towel fry. Extract juice using a citrus juicer or squeeze by hand. Makes about 1/2 cup of juice.
Pour Citron juice to a large mixing bowl or jug. Add crushed jaggery (quantity should be enough to cover the juice completely.). Squeeze lemon juice to this.
Grind Saffron to a powder in a mini mortar and pestle and add to the juices. Sprinkle ground cardamom and add freshly ground ginger as well. I used mortar and pestle for all the grinding.
Sprinkle the salt, drizzle the honey and add brown sugar.
Pour in the water and stir to mix well.
Taste and adjust the sweetness as required. Since everything depends on the fruits, taste may vary. Add more citron juice or water or sweetener to suit your taste. Jaggery neutralizes salty, sour and hot tastes. Adjust accordingly.
Serve cold or at room temperature.
While buying Citron, buy fresh looking unblemished semi yellow fruits with smooth skin. Green Citrons aren't as juicy and ripe.
Use lemon juice only if Citron isn't tangy enough. Brown sugar can be used as a substitute for Jaggery.