A Bed of Roses
By Kurma Dasa
centuries, the divine fragrance of rose has been captured and preserved
in the form of rose water by the simple process of steam distillation
of fresh rose petals with water. It is an ancient method that can
be traced back to biblical times in the Middle East, and later to
the Indian sub-continent.
The variety of rose most favoured for the production of rosewater
is the intensely perfumed damask rose, Rosa damascena.
Arab raiders had firmly introduced rosewater into Indian kitchens
by 1000 AD. In his book “Indian Food”, K.T Achaya writes:
“To the somewhat austere Hindu dining ambience the Muslims
brought a refined and courtly etiquette of both group and individual
dining. Food items native to India were enriched with nuts, raisins,
spices, flavourings like rose, and ghee.”
Achaya described the dining customs of the Delhi Sultans:
“Before the dinner begins, the chamberlain stands at the
head of the dinner carpet and performs the bow in the direction
of the sultan, and all present do the same. After this the people
sit down and then are brought gold, silver and glass cups filled
with sherbet flavoured with rose water. After they have taken the
sherbet, the chamberlain calls out Bismillah. Then all begin to
Today, the world’s finest rose water, in my opinion, comes
from Lebanon, India and France. In Indian cuisine, especially in
the kitchens of Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, rose water, known
as gulab jal, is an important ingredient.
My first experience of rose water was in Old Delhi on a dusty,
blistering hot day in 1974. A friend and I took shelter in a tiny
lassi shop in Chandni Chowk Bazaar and were transported to
refrigerator heaven the moment the smooth, frothy, icy cold, rose-flavoured
yogurt beverage touched our lips.
Diluted rose water is often sprinkled about Indian homes or temples
as a refresher, especially in the summer. Rose water is also effectively
used in the famous succulent and juicy Bengali syrup sweets such
as gulab jamun, rasagoola and also in creamy rice
In some temples, the drinking water offered to the Deity is rose-flavoured:
fresh petals are added to chilled clay pots of well-water, covered
with a cloth, left to sit for twenty-four hours, and then strained
off. The water is also delicious in lemonade and herb teas.
Here's the classic recipe for rose lassi.
2½ cups plain yogurt
½ cup fine sugar
2 teaspoons pure rose water
¾ cup iced water
1 cup ice cubes, cracked
a few fragrant rose petals for garnish
Blend the yogurt, sugar, rose water and iced water in a
blender for 2 minutes.
Add the ice and process for another 2 minutes.
Pour the lassi into tall, refrigerated glasses and
garnish with rose petals. Chill out!
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