KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 — Every Deepavali it is a privilege to be invited to the open houses of our Hindu friends. The Festival of Lights celebrates the victory of light over darkness, of the age-old battle where good triumphs over evil.

From a spiritual point of view, it’s a lovely and much needed reminder that no matter how dark the days are, there are always brighter days to look forward to.

Of course, I would be lying if I did not confess to looking forward to the veritable feast of scrumptious foods too. There are pakoras and samosas, curling ribbons of murukku and cardamom infused kheer, a comforting rice pudding studded with raisins and almonds.

Yes, there are savoury delicacies too — I would never say no to another helping of saffron-perfumed biryani — but during Deepavali, it’s the mithai or Indian sweets that enrapture my taste buds.

From gajar halwa, grated carrots cooked with ghee, sugar and condensed milk, to the nearly tooth-achingly sweet gulab jamun (deep-fried curdled milk balls in syrup), Deepavali is a boon for dessert lovers.

Ripe peaches are sweet and sun-kissed.
Ripe peaches are sweet and sun-kissed.

Given our oft-times swelteringly hot climate, it’s the colder treats that are a bigger draw for me. Sometimes our gracious hosts will offer a pot of creamy kulfi, a frozen spiced milk dessert that is denser than ordinary ice cream.

What is nearly always assured, however, is a cool glass of freshly made lassi. Hailing originally from India and Pakistan, a lassi is traditionally a blend of yoghurt, water (and sometimes milk) and spices.

I think the reason why I adore this chilled beverage so much is the fact that an authentic lassi is savoury rather than super-sweet. Typically salt is added as well as spices such as black pepper, cardamom, cumin and turmeric.

Of course, lassi can be predominantly saccharine and honeyed too. One sweet rendition, meethi lassi, features rosewater in addition to spices such as cardamom and saffron.

Honey and fruit are two other common ingredients that add a natural sweetness. Mango lassi is perhaps the most famous fruit-based lassi but almost any ripe and sweet fruit could work.

Baked peaches are brimming with deeply flavourful juices.
Baked peaches are brimming with deeply flavourful juices.

This is where looking to other culinary traditions for inspiration can prove fruitful (pun intended).

A classic pairing is to combine ripe and sweet peaches with rich, velvety cream. One is reminded of the Peach Melba — originally a tribute to the famous Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba — which is a delectable concoction of peaches with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce.

So why not substitute mangoes with peaches? The resultant colour is nearly the same though peaches offer a rosier hue. More importantly, we can add more flavour by baking the peaches first — the notes of caramelisation are mouthwatering!

Baked Peach 'Lassi'

It’s easy enough to make lassi at home: All you need is a decent blender to combine all the ingredients thoroughly for a smooth and creamy end product.

Peaches, of course, are known as a summer fruit. Ripe peaches are sweet and sun-kissed.

Full cream yoghurt is the basis of a creamy 'lassi'.
Full cream yoghurt is the basis of a creamy 'lassi'.

But honestly, with agricultural advances and a more forgiving harvesting schedule, we can get peaches almost all year round.

November is the start of peach season in Australia, for instance. (The joys of having two hemispheres and opposing seasonal cycles.)

If you can’t find any fresh ones in the supermarket, you can use tinned peaches in a pinch (though this has to be drained of their syrup before using — otherwise your lassi will be super sweet!).

In this recipe, I have elected to bake the peaches to add a lovely note of caramelisation. Baked peaches brim with deeply flavourful juices.

But using your peaches as is without baking works too, particularly if the peaches are ripe. Let your nose guide you at the supermarket fruit aisle: the stronger the fragrance, the more likely the peach will be more sweet.

Whole milk (left) and organic honey (right).
Whole milk (left) and organic honey (right).

The other ingredients are pretty much a no-brainer: Full cream yoghurt, naturally, is the basis of a creamy lassi. I have used whole milk instead of water to make the lassi even richer whilst organic honey supports the sweetness of the fruit.

Cardamom and cinnamon are my dynamic duo here. Use your preferred spices — cumin and black pepper work wonderfully together.

Ingredients

4 ripe peaches, halved and stones removed

250 ml full cream yoghurt

125 ml whole milk

1 tablespoon organic honey

½ teaspoon cardamom powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

Cinnamon sticks (for garnishing)

Ice cubes (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Slice the peaches into halves and place into an oven-friendly pan. Bake in the oven for 20-40 minutes until fork-tender.

To cool the 'lassi' down further, add some ice cubes.
To cool the 'lassi' down further, add some ice cubes.

Remove the baked peaches from the oven. Let the peaches cool to room temperature.

Purée the cooled baked peaches, yoghurt, milk, honey, cardamom, cinnamon and salt in a blender until smooth. Pour the lassi into clear glasses. Garnish each glass with a cinnamon stick.

Serve immediately. To cool the lassi down further, feel free to add some ice cubes.

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