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Kurma Dasa


Cooking With Kurma > Essays > A Bed of Roses

A Bed of Roses
By Kurma Dasa

The rose most favoured for rosewater is the damask rose (Rosa damascena)For 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 eat”

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 kheer.

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

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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