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'To Life, to Life, Lehiyam' - Lehiyam gelato

Lehiyam Gelato

Call it what you will, but every year around this time, I can't but help humming this song from 'Fiddler on the Roof'  in my head , except,  the Hebrew word L'Chaim gets twisted into the Tamil 'Lehiyam'. It makes perfect sense though, doesn't it? L'Chaim translates as 'To Life' and the iconic Lehiyam is a life enhancing tonic served up at Diwali. Fits perfectly into the grand scheme of things, in my opinion.

Lehiyam , that iconic signature item prepared in every TamBrahm household for Diwali. Its like advertising to the world that while the rest of the Diwali celebrating population is off partying and gambling away, us goody two shoes actually partake of tonic to keep healthy . And, truth be told, the ingredients that go into the Lehiyam are all geared to combat indigestion - ginger figures at the top of this list.  But in real life, we'd all be severely overdosing on the tonic if weren't for the fact that it is made in limited quantities, never more than a cup to be shared between extended family (which translates to about a tablespoon or less per person).

Lehiyam ingredients

I made a significant substitution to  my Lehiyam batch this year . The sweetener of choice every year is regular Jaggery (Gud), but this time around I had a stock of 'Karupatti' (Toddy Palm Jaggery) that I'd picked up from my visit to the iconic 'Dabba Chetty Kadai' in Mylapore, Chennai last June.

The store needs no introduction to anyone who has a familial connection to Chennai. But for those from other parts of the world. If you are remotely a food aficionado, this little store should be on your list if you ever visit Chennai. The walls of this little store are lined from floor to ceiling with little tin containers (hence the name Dabba - box) with the most unbelievably huge selection of herbs and spices. 

Ingredients for Neo natal potions (including dried Calamus, Ginger & Galangal)

Dried Blossoms and herbs used in traditional scented Bath mixtures,
the large yellow chunks are a variety of non edible aromatic turmeric.

 For more details, here is a newspaper article that my blogging buddy Lata Raja (Flavors and Tastes) sent me. The staff , including the proprietor Mr. Badrinath are very friendly and helpful. I guarantee that one visit is worth a million bucks in terms of what you learn.

I never got around to taking fancy pictures of my purchases and so all I have is one or two snaps from my Phone that I captured at the store.

Bags of the Toddy palm (Jaggery, crystals and rock sugar) and a bag or aromatic 'Kasturi' Turmeric

Back to the edible ingredients. I've covered some details about Toddy Palm Jaggery in this post from a couple of years ago and  have posted a couple of recipes showcasing the flavors of "Karupatti' (Toddy Palm Jaggery). Here are the links:

For those residing outside India, the toddy palm sweeteners may be hard to acquire, and the substitution for Jaggery/gud to Karupatti is the same, so just use the same quantity of the toddy Palm variant in lieu of the standard sugarcane version. Or vice versa. Coarse Muscovado sugar crystals would work in lieu of the toddy Palm sugar.

My latest recipe featuring this native sweetener is a light gelato, The flavor is refreshing and palate cleansing in one shot. Unlike a traditional custard like ice cream, its not heavy and cloying. The Ginger confers an added digestif property to this delightful dessert.

Toddy palm sugar

Lehiyam Gelato

You need:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 - 5 long pepper, broken into small bits
  • 2 tablespoon coriander seeds, roughly crushed
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup Lehiyam (for the detailed recipe follow this link)
  • 1/2 cup toddy palm sugar (or regular muscovado sugar)

Combine the milk, heavy cream, icing sugar,  the long pepper and coriander. Bring to a gentle boil on low heat and simmer the mixture for about 15 minutes. Allow to chill in the refrigerator for about 4 hours or preferably overnight.

Place the ice cream maker container in the freezer and chill it according to the manufacturers instructions.

On the following day, when you're ready to make the gelato, Strain the milk/cream mixture and discard the coriander/pepper bits.
Start the ice cream churner and gradually pour the mixture into the chilled chamber to churn. The total time it took me was about 30 minutes, but it probably varies depending upon the machine, so follow your appliances instructions.

When the mixture begins to appear lumpy (bits of soft frozen chunks begin to appear) add the lehiyam morsel by morsel. This is important, you don't want to add the lehiyam in one shot, it will harden and not mix into the gelato. Wait for the lehiyam to get incorporated well before adding the next bit.

Once the mixture freezes to almost to a soft serve consistency, pour in the toddy palm sugar crystals in a steady stream. This ensures that the crystals distribute evenly over the gelato.

Transfer the soft mixture into a container and freeze overnight to set to a firm consistency. To serve, scoop out into chilled ice cream bowls and garnish with an extra sprinkle of the toddy palm sugar crystals.

Bon Appetit!


  1. Replies
    1. The recipe wouldn't be the same then , would it ?? :-) .. But I suppose, organic store bought chyavanprash would work..

    2. Superb yaar!! Amazing I m wondering how it would taste. A blast of legiyam in every lick, wow. Mind blowing! !!


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