As Dhaka temperatures reach some of the highest levels we have seen in the last sixty years, we are here to help you escape the heat with some cooling recipes.
As the burning sun rises every day, we can only wish we had a tansen or baiju bawra amidst us to sing the raga malhar inducing rains into our sweating city. In the past, it would just have taken wetting the khas (vetiver grass) screen, allowing the wind passing through it to cool down – now life is a bit more complicated, but here are a few handy – and quick - tips to stay cool.
Staying cool in Dhaka
If you have tiled floors, mop them with plenty of water. They will be much cooler to walk on, maybe even cooler to sleep on than your bed!
Cut up some watermelon: The higher the water content in food, the more likely it will keep your temperature down. Watermelon is mostly water, which slows down digestion and takes less energy from the body.
Kick your shoes off and soak your burning feet in a tub of cool water with some mint dipped in.
To help you to drink more water, make a big jug of flavoured water – there is always the old favourite lemonade (honey, lemon, ice and a dash of salt) but we also like refreshmint (fresh mint leaves, honey, lime, ice and sliced cucumber), but any crushed fruit works well.
Stay away from ice cream – the fat content in ice cream actually makes your body warmer. Fat moves slowly through the digestive system so it takes more energy to digest. Anytime you are putting more energy through the system, whether it is through lifting weights or digesting, your body heats up.
Beating the heat through the ages
From the ancient Harappan civilisation to the Roman baths, water has always played a major role in beating heat – and it continues to play the same role. A 4500 year old well excavated in Mohenjodaro (Pakistan) was found to not only have been used for storing water and cooling the air around it, but to form little pools and bathing spots.
Even in ancient times, water was often kept in earthen pots so that the pores in the pots would cool the water inside. In Spain, water is kept in earthen carriers called botijos, with often more than one spout to drink from, and it always stays cool no matter how hot the day is.
Troops travelling in from the Mesopotamian regions learnt how to cool their homes from watching Indians spray their rooftops with water to cool the house.
Nowadays houses are increasingly built with bricks and cement, particularly in Dhaka, and we do not have the space to build thick walls like we used to – with gaps in between layers to provide insulation and increase ventilation. Thinner walls mean hotter houses, which means we have to try even harder to keep cool and avoid horrific air-conditioning bills.
We are seeing good examples of sustainable building options though -- lime, chalk and mud are still widely used in Bangladesh and the recent METI handmade school in Rudrapur, Dinajpur (Dipshikha organisation) that won international acclaim was built using natural products to let the natural air cool the interiors.
Into the kitchen to cool down
4 large cucumber, peel them and de-seed them
1 diced onion, 4 large diced garlic pieces
1 cup chicken stock (boil 1 cup diced chicken with garlic paste, white pepper, parsley and a dash of vinegar, blend the stock)
1/2 cup yoghurt
1/2 tsp rosemary, pinch of dried dill (optional) and pinch of dried basil and chives
Olive oil according to your taste
Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil for about 2 minutes till they are transparent before adding the rosemary and sauté for another 30 seconds. Add the yoghurt and cook for another minute or 2 until the yoghurt separates a bit from the rest, then add the blended stock.
Blend the cucumbers into a juicy pulp and add this to the pot and add the rest of the seasonings. Add salt to your taste and cook till the soup gets one boil. Take it off the stove and cool before chilling. Serve cold with chopped mint leaves sprinkled on top and some Dhaka ponir grated on it.
Health kick: Cucumber. The fourth most cultivated vegetable in the world, cucumbers are 95 per cent water, packed full of B vitamins and electrolytes (great for a quick pick-me-up) and can even help you lose weight because of its low calorie content.
Steamed cabbage rolls with yoghurt dip
1 large cabbage
150g meat beef (you may pre-boil if needed with some garlic and salt)
Capsicum 2 pieces
Tomatoes ½ kg
Spring onions 4-5 sprigs
Whole onions 2 pieces
Salt and cumin powder to taste
Coriander, mint and some celery leaves according to taste
One cup full of yoghurt
Mint leaves 100g and ¼ tsp garlic paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop everything up in dices or bite sized portions. Mix the rice, meat and herbs together. Add some salt, pepper, cumin powder, tomato paste and oil and mix the entire thing properly. Tear off separate cabbage leaf pieces and blanche them in boiling water.
Take them out, neatly cut the middle stem and with a small spoon, scoop out some of the rice/meat mixture and put it in the middle of the leaf. Start wrapping it from the bottom and travel up so as to make it into a tight little packet.
Heat a steamer or you can simply place a strainer on top of a pot of boiling water. Steam the rolls for about 20-25 minutes so that the rice and meat are cooked through.
Mix the yoghurt with the garlic paste, salt and pepper and mint leaves crushed into a paste. Mix well. Should taste tangy and hot to taste. You may also make the Turkish Cacik and add grated cucumbers with the yoghurt and garlic.
Serve the rolls on a bed of lettuce leaves with the dip and eat as hot as possible as the steamed leaves tend to toughen up if left cold. Keep them in the steamer for as long as possible.
Health kick: Cabbage. Cabbage is like a multivitamin, with folate, a wide range of vitamins, electrolytes, minerals and iron. It is also amazingly low-calorie – perfect for watching your weight in this silly season!
Pineapple ginger sorbet
4 cups frozen pineapple
1 cup chopped pitted dates
½ cup coconut water
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Cut the pineapple up into small chunks and freeze overnight. Place the coconut water, then the dates and ginger, then the pineapple in the blender, turn it onto high and use a spoon to guide the ingredients through the blades.
Blend until desired smoothness (we like it a bit chunky).
Enjoy immediately like frozen yoghurt or place in the freezer for a few hours and scoop out like conventional sorbet.
Health kick: Pineapple. It boosts your immune system, nourishes your hair, is full of vitamins and is classified as one of the world's healthiest foods!
Pineapple with chilli and mustard oil
This one is simple – chop up pineapple into small pieces, add half a handful of finely chopped green chilli to it, a splash of mustard oil and a few shakes of salt. Shake it around, add more or less of each ingredient to your taste and leave it in the freezer for a few hours. The perfect refreshing snack!
Health kick: The heat actually cools your body, and green chilli is packed with vitamins – we don't need to write anymore, every Bengali knows how good kacha morich is for you. Stay cool.