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One of my favorite memories from my 'naanke' (maternal grandparents' home) is that of preparing and relishing 'shardaayi' - a sweet nut milk, each day of our summer vacation. A family project to nourish the bodies and combat the scorching heat of the northern plains, bound us together in appreciation of traditional foods.

In some name or variation, shardaayi is also famous for being the drink that powers, the largely vegetarian yet physically fit and brave warriors of Punjab - the Nihang Singhs. They are known to carry their stash of nuts, seeds and herbs along with the mortar-pestle combo wherever they go.

It would be an elaborate process but we had many hands. Grandmother and her six daughters plus I, along with the eldest of the granddaughters along with my siblings and cousins, was also there to help out.

The process would start with rinsing, drying and peeling the magaz (seeds from musk melon and cantaloupes). More the hands the merrier. Almonds were blanched. Cardamoms de-podded. Seeds and Saffron soaked.

All the ingredients were ground in a large stone mortar and pestle. The children eagerly awaited their turns but were equally quick to pass on to the next one; it was hard work. Water and sugar was gradually added and there you had it!

Poured over ice cubes, sheer ambrosia of chilled shardaayi drink - to cool you down and power your body and brain.

Sweet, fragrant and nutty; sometimes topped with rose petals for additional flavour and beauty.

Those were the 1970s.

Fast forward to the 2000s.

My obsession with health, veganism and environment friendly foods has driven me to resort to old time wisdoms and reconstitute some powerful recipes from my home-land of Punjab.

Shardaayi is one of them. Its nostalgic taste, and the sleek yet sturdy bodies of Nihang Singhs, were reasons enough for me to re-instate this drink in my diet.

But that isn't all.

I did a nutritional analysis on shardaayi and was amazed to see that it has complete protein (with all essential amino-acids) and loads of vitamins and minerals that are essential for a good nervous system, heart health and bone, muscles and brain tissue. Since then, it has become a drink that fuels our largely vegan but active lifestyle.

My 2-horse-power blender may have replaced the arms of six sisters, but each time I sip the drink I am transported to my grandparent's courtyard.

We have been enjoying this version of shardaayi for the last 2-3 years and now I decided it's time to share.

The recipe has been modified a bit to use local nuts and seeds. I encourage you to re-explore and share your own family's version.

    For 4 servings, I use:

    1/2 cup of nuts (Almonds and/or Pistachios)

    1/2 cup of seeds (Sunflower, Pumpkin and/or Melon)

    A tablespoon of Poppy Seeds

    A teaspoon of fennel seeds (if you like the flavour)

    A pinch of Saffron A few black peppercorns

    A pinch of cardamom seeds (discard the pods first)

    Water for desired thickness

    Sugar or Honey for desired sweetness

What I do:

Soak nuts overnight. In the morning, peel off the almond skins as it loosens upon soaking.  Soak the rest of the ingredients.
Grind all ingredients to a very smooth paste adding small quantities of water very slowly. Blend in appropriate amount of sweetener and rest of the water. Chill before serving.

Shardaayi can stay in the refrigerator for a couple of days. In winter, it can be boiled with some chopped dates (instead of sugar) for extra warmth and body. This nut-milk is many times superior than the dairy counterpart in terms of nutrition. It also carries a much smaller carbon and cruelty footprint.

Give it a try! You will know why it is still a part and parcel of the diet of the great Sikh warriors of Punjab.

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