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Nimboo Paani: Spiced Limeade

A zesty cocktail of lime juice and water.

Nimboo paani! It’s the quintessential drink of summer for many South Asians. I take a sip and am instantly transported to my childhood in Karachi—a litany of afternoons spent cartwheeling on the prickly green grass and nights caressed by a breeze coming off the Arabian Sea. Nothing quenches thirst as satisfyingly as the tangy cocktail of lime juice and water, spiked with salt, sugar, honey, or—for the lion-hearted—a dash of black pepper. During the merciless heat of summer, the juice of the gracious lime also serves as a restorative after a bout of stomach illness or flu. An unrivalled antidote to dehydration, the emerald green fruit is, however, not just another innocuous citrus.

Slice a lime in half, sprinkle its faces with red sindur powder and golden turmeric, place the halves on the floor on either side of the entrance to your room or office and you’ll ward off the evil eye while garnering the protection of the gods. Alternatively, you can shield yourself and your home by threading a lime and a cluster of red chilies together, and hanging the talisman on your front door, says Das, a pandit in Jackson Heights.

In the pandit’s miniscule, poster-filled office, I stare in awe at the images of pooja ceremonies at temples in which deities are adorned with garlands made of whole limes. I learn that Shiva’s trishula—a three-headed spear mounted on a staff—is often auspiciously pierced with limes. If you acquire a new vehicle, you would be wise to place a lime beneath each wheel and drive your car over the potent fruits for good luck and to bless your season of prosperity.

Limes certainly live a full life in the spiritual sphere but back on the earthly plane, lime juice and lukewarm water, first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach—a tradition in many South Asian households—will cleanse and fortify you. The lime’s mineral and alkaline properties are thought to be immensely beneficial. I met a woman who worked for the royal family at the palace in Nepal and knows the secret potency of food. Once, when I was on the verge of being hospitalized with an ovarian cyst, she made me a pot of hot black tea with lime and a pinch of pepper. She swore it was packed with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Three years later, it has become a daily, post-dinner ritual in my home. I’ll dare say—I thrive by lime!

Whenever homesickness strikes, I take the 7 train to Jackson Heights and head over to Patel Brothers. I fill my plastic bag with limes, bask in the plenitude of the soothing green fruit with its versatile, secret properties. All those limes in my hand and I am tricked into summoning a sense of tranquility, believing that once I slice the fruit and squeeze its juice, I’ll be just a little closer to home.

To make spiced lemonade, check out this recipe.