Story and photography by Lori Ross
An iced cocktail, a chilled white wine or a frosty beer is always a welcome treat at the dock or on the hook, but most of the time, and especially while underway, we prefer drinks without alcohol. As I get older, I seem to feel the effects of alcohol more readily and too much imbibing just makes me feel too sleepy to do anything but take a nap.
However, because I enjoy the range and layers of tastes offered by wines, beers and various hard liquors, I am often bored by the flavor of soft drinks – most sodas and juices are, to my palate, cloying and too sweet. Though I enjoy the range of fragrance and tastes in various teas and coffees, I find that too much of either one irritates my stomach. Still and sparkling waters with citrus are nice as are some diet soda and juices cut with a little soda water or tonic, but they can’t match the intensity, complexity and tanginess of many alcoholic drinks. Thus, I have, for the last several years embarked on a crusade to find the holy grail of soft drinks – exciting, delicious beverages that rival their alcoholic brethren in complexity and taste without the addition of liquor.
My first step began, in earnest, when I tasted some tangy soft drinks in Thai, Vietnamese and Indian restaurants. They were exotic, subtle and refreshing – perfectly complementing the flavorful combinations characteristic of these cuisines. I explored what kinds of beverages other cuisines serve -- piquant Mexican, South and Central American dishes, Mediterranean, African and Middle Eastern fare and East Indian, Malaysian and other classic cuisines of the world – Chinese, Japanese French, Italian and Japanese. Using spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables in interesting combinations, I discovered a wide range of easy to make, mouth-watering cold drinks that I’d like to share with you.
Serve beverages in attractive pitchers and pretty glasses with colorful garnishes or use decorative or flavored ice cubes to intensify drinks. For decorative ice cubes…fill an ice cube trays with water and one of the following in each cube: maraschino cherry, tiny wedge of citrus, small chunk of pineapple or mango, whole raspberry or blackberry, or citrus peel.
Where some of these drinks require unusual ingredients such as tamarind, lemon grass or kaffir lime leaves, I offer variations or directed you to web sites to order these products inexpensively This search opened the door to some new flavors that I hope your will enjoy. All recipes serve 3-4 people.
THE WATERS OF LIFE
Still and sparkling water with lemon or lime are refreshing but somewhat ordinary, so I started my search to find new and provocative ways to serve classic waters.
Refreshing Cold Waters:
A standby of spas, cucumber water has a gentle, restorative effect, mild flavor and a provocative scent.
1 fresh cucumber washed and unpeeled (seeded optional)
8 cups water
Use a vegetable peeler to slice a dozen or so very thin ribbons of cucumber and add to a pitcher of fresh water. Chill for several hours in the refrigerator. Pour a glass, garnish with a piece of cucumber, lemon or lime and be transported to a cool green garden on a hot day.
Native to Mexico, cooling fruit waters contrast perfectly with the hot, spicy chile- based cuisine. T he principle is to extract the maximum flavor from the fruit, strain the juice from the solids and add water to dilute the intense flavor, resulting in a cool, slightly sweet counterpoint to spicy foods. Instead of melon, you could use strawberries, pineapple, or mango -- any fruit that is soft enough to puree. If you prefer the texture of a smoothie, you can whip this up in a food processor or blender without diluting for a thicker drink or make it a “frozen” drink in a blender with chopped ice for a light dessert. Feel free to experiment with other sweet fruits, fresh, frozen or canned.
Melon aqua fresca
1 large cantaloupe, seeded and diced (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups water
2 to 4 tbsps sugar or honey
2 to 3 limes, juiced
Puree melon in a blender or food processor with ¼ to ½ cup water and pour the thick juice through a fine sieve to eliminate pulp. In a pitcher, mix strained fruit juice with water and season with sugar and lime juice, to taste. Pour into tall icy glasses and garnish with a slice of lime on the rim.
This is a great way to use the remnants of a fresh whole pineapple after you’ve eaten the fruit.
8 cups water
1 fresh pineapple
3 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger
Scrub pineapple skin, then trim pineapple and put fruit aside for another use. Place ONLY skin and core in a large jar with water and sliced ginger. Cover and refrigerate or keep in cool place overnight. Strain and serve over ice with fresh pineapple slice as garnish on the glass.
Called a tisane in France, fresh herbs are infused in warm water, then served chilled with or without sugar for an unusual and tasty drink. A strong herbal tisane can be thinned with water (1 part tisane to 3 part water) and poured over ice with or without sugar. Or, use sparkling water, with a drop or two of flavored vinegar for a refreshing drink.
Use 1 cup washed fresh herbs (e.g. mint, rosemary, sage, organic rose petals, lemon-thyme, pineapple sage, scented geraniums or lavender) to warm water for 10-15 minutes. Strain into pitcher, dilute with water, chill and serve with a sprig of the herb/s you selected. While somewhat bitter full strength and without sugar, this is a delicious, fragrant and restorative drink cut with lots of water and a little sugar.
1 cup fresh rosemary
2 cups water
1 inch piece of ginger peeled and sliced thin
Heat rosemary in water until boiling, add ginger then simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool then strain out the rosemary and ginger. Add water (1 part tisane to 3 parts water), add sugar or honey and chill and pour over ice.
Variation: Blend 1 part tisane with 3 parts pineapple juice or ginger beer for a special treat.
1 cup fresh sage leaves
3 tbsps sugar
1 tbsps grated lemon rind
3-4 tbsps of lemon juice
4 cups water
Add ingredients to water and bring to simmer. Turn off heat. Add lemon rind, lemon juice and steep for 30 minutes. Strain out the herbs and add water (1 part tisane to 3 parts water), add sugar or honey and chill and pour over ice.
Indian Style Lemonade
4 cups Water
1/4 cup lime juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup Maple syrup, honey or sugar
1/4 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
Pinch of pepper, optional
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher. Serve chilled.
The limeade should be served immediately, since it will quickly darken if left standing.
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges and seeded
1 lb ripe red or black plums, quartered and pitted
1 1/2 cups crushed ice
1 cup cold water
2/3 cup superfine sugar
Garnish: plum and lime slices and fresh mint sprigs
Blend lime wedges (including peel) in a blender on high speed 10 seconds. Add plums, ice, water, and sugar and blend until plums are puréed, about 15 seconds. Pour through a very fine sieve into a pitcher, pressing on solids. Stir limeade and serve immediately over ice.
Lassi is a traditional South Asian non-alcoholic beverage. It is very similar to a milkshake, the main difference is that plain yogurt replaces the milk. It is an easy drink recipe to make on a lazy summer afternoon when a refreshing and filling non-alcoholic tropical drink is just what the day calls for. Be sure the yogurt is as cold as possible prior to using. Besides being filling, this mango drink is also good for your digestive system. Garnish with mint sprigs if desired.
1 1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 cup diced mango (canned or fresh)
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tspn ground cardamom
1/8 tspn ground cumin
pinch of salt
Place mango flesh in a blender or food processor. Blend until pureed; mixture should yield about 1 – 1 ¼ cups. Add yogurt and lime juice and process until combined. Working in batches if necessary, add 2 cups ice; blend until combined. Serve cold.
Cardomom Lassi : Eliminate mango, lime, cumin and salt. Double the amount of yogurt and add 6 to 8 tbsps sugar
COLD SPARKLING REFRESHERS:
Citrus and Soda
Add 8-10 strips of fresh lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit peel to a pitcher of sparkling water for a dry, tangy twist on the traditional soda with lemon or lime juice.
Angostura bitters are a mixture of herbs and spices from Angostura, Venezuela on the banks of the Orinoco River. Bitters are a savory addition to seltzer water, juice sparklers and enhanced by citrus slices.
Lemon Lime & Bitters from www.angosturabitters.com
Rim the inside of a glass with 5-6 dashes of Angostura® aromatic bitters Add ice and swirl until the glass is evenly coated with Angostura® aromatic bitters. Fill glass with fresh lemon or fresh lime juice and sparkling water. Garnish with a slice of lemon or lime.
Unsweetened juices are more widely available now and mixed with sparkling water, they make a delicious drink. Look for sour cherry juice, pomegranate juice, blueberry juice, tangerine juice at the grocers or go to www.amazon.com and search “Gourmet Food” for juice. Unsweetened cranberry, tangerine, blood orange, pomegranate, sour cherry and other juices are available at low cost. Use 1/3 juice to 2/3 sparkling water. Garnish with slices of citrus or pineapple.
The intensely sour, fruity juice of unripe grapes is used as a condiment, like vinegar, in France and is a wonderful drink when mixed 50-50 with sparkling water. Order verjus at: www.markys.com or find it at a gourmet market.
Italian Soda Fruit, nut and herb-flavored syrups like Torani or Monin are available at specialty-food stores or at www.italiansyrups.com or www.moninstore.com. Some of my favorites are Torani watermelon and Monin’s lemongrass, rose and jasmine
1 part flavored syrup
4 parts seltzer water
Fresh mint, citrus peel or fruit, for garnish
Fill a tall glass with ice, add syrup, and fill with seltzer. Stir well. Add more syrup to taste. Garnish with fresh mint or fruit.
Infused Sugar Syrups
Makes about 1 1/4 CUPS
Basic sugar syrup ingredients
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
In a medium saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 30 minutes. Strain the syrup into a clean bottle or jar and refrigerate. Keep for 30 days refrigerated.
ORANGE AND CRANBERRY SYRUP: Add the zest of 1 orange removed in large strips with a vegetable peeler, and 1/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries to water and sugar then continue with recipe.
MINTED LIME SYRUP: Add the zest of 2 limes removed in large strips with a vegetable peeler, along with 3 mint sprigs to water and sugar then continue with recipe.
Add 3 Tbsps lemon zest and ¾ cup lemon juice to water and sugar.
LEMONGRASS OR LIME LEAF SYRUP
If you can find lemongrass stalks or kaffir lime leaves, add ½ cup of sliced, bruised lemongrass or ½ cup lime leaves to water and sugar.
GINGER SYRUP For a more intense flavor, make this syrup a day before you plan to use it to allow the ginger to sit in the syrup, refrigerated, overnight. Add one three-inch piece fresh ginger, finely diced , to water and sugar, then heat.. Variation: add ¼ cup fresh chopped mint to ginger syrup.
For one drink, fill a tall glass with ice and 1 cup sparkling water:
Lime-Mint Spritzer: Pour 1/4 Cup Of Lime Syrup Into Glass And Add 6 Crushed Mint Leaves Garnish With A Twist Of Lime.
Apple-Ginger Sparkler: Pour ¼ Cup Ginger Syrup Into Glass. Garnish With Cinnamon Stick And A Piece Of Crystallized Ginger. Variation: Use Sparkling Cider Instead Of Sparkling Water.
Sparkling Lemonade: Pour ¼ Cup Lemon Syrup. Garnish With Fresh Mint leaves and lemon slices.
Use sugar syrup to make classic lemonade (with still water) that is evenly sweetened and has no un-dissolved sugar at the bottom.
Kaffir Lime-Ginger Spritzer
This is my favorite drink from D.C. restaurant Asia Nora. The unique aroma and flavor of kaffir lime leaves give this limeade a distinct taste.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh ginger root slices (unpeeled, smashed and sliced)
8 kaffir lime leaves* or lime peel
In a small saucepan, bring the water, sugar, ginger and lime leaves to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside to cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to infuse the syrup. Strain the syrup, discarding the solids.
1 cup fresh lime juice (from about 8 limes)
1/2 cup Kaffir-Ginger Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
24 ounces sparkling water
Kaffir lime leaves or sliced lime for garnish
In a pitcher, combine the lime juice, simple syrup and sparkling water and stir vigorously. Pour into chilled glasses and garnish with additional lime leaves.
*Kaffir lime leaves may be ordered at: www.importfood.com (About 100 kaffir lime leaves for $6,00 – leaves can be frozen in plastic bag indefinitely).
Imli is the Indian word for tamarind that makes this cooler sour and tangy. This recipe is from Teaism cafes in Washington, D.C. Tamarind concentrate or tamarind syrup is available at Asian or Latino grocers or by mail order at: www.amazon.com search “Gourmet Food’ for tamarind concentrate or tamarind syrup ( about $6.00 for a large bottle)
8 tbsps tamarind concentrate or tamarind syrup
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup brown (or white)sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup hot water
7 cups cold water
In a pitcher or large bowl, combine the tamarind, lime juice, brown sugar and cardamom. Add the hot water and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and there are no lumps. Add the cold water and stir. Cover and refrigerate until chilled through, 2 to 3 hours. Stir or shake to mix before serving. Serve over ice and garnish with a mint sprig.
Tamarind and Tonic - tamarind and tonic with a twist of lemon makes a dry and refreshing drink with a slight bitterness.
1/4 cups tamarind syrup
16 oz. chilled tonic
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
Combine all of the ingredients in pitcher.