Cool off sim­ply, sweetly with sum­mer drinks

Austin American-Statesman - - FOOD & LIFE - By Ad­die Broyles Amer­i­cAn-StAteS­mAn food writer

The hot­ter it gets, the sweeter le­mon­ade seems to taste.

In the dog days of sum­mer, an ice-cold agua fresca, tea, limeade or even some­thing as sim­ple as a sparkling wa­ter can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween an af­ter­noon spent ques­tion­ing the choice of liv­ing in Texas al­to­gether or an en­joy­able af­ter­noon of “it ain’t so bad.”

But even the most re­fresh­ing bev­er­age can use a recharge dur­ing Austin’s six months of sum­mer, and for that, I have two words: sim­ple syrup. Un­like gran­u­lated sugar, which doesn’t dis­solve com­pletely in cold liq­uid, a sim­ple syrup — made from an easy-to-re­mem­ber ra­tio of 1 part sugar to 1 part wa­ter — is heated first to com­pletely in­cor­po­rate the sugar into the wa­ter, but best of all, it’s a blank slate for just about any com­bi­na­tion of herbs, spices or fruit you can think of.

Want to use up the ex­tra basil you bought at the farm­ers mar­ket? Make a basil syrup that will liven up any le­mon­ade. Look­ing to add a kick to an agua fresca made with can­taloupes or wa­ter­melon? Sweeten it with a gin­ger jalapeño syrup. Make iced tea a lit­tle more in­ter­est­ing by fla­vor­ing it with a syrup made from le­mon thyme, lemon­grass or pineap­ple mint grow­ing in your gar­den.

Sim­ple syrups don’t just sweeten drinks. You can driz­zle gin­ger all­spice nut­meg syrup over cut-up mango or pineap­ple, pour le­mon rasp­berry syrup over an­gel food cake or corn­bread or top off vanilla ice cream or yo­gurt with laven­der car­damom syrup.

Rein­vent­ing your fa­vorite drinks re­quires break­ing it down into its parts: the base liq­uid, the sweet­ener and, if us­ing, the al­co­hol and any gar­nish. But once you de­con­struct the drink, there are in­fi­nite ways to put it back to­gether. From the first squeeze to fi­nal gar­nish, here are some recipes and tips for mak­ing a sum­mer drink that might just make you for­get that the hottest days are yet to come. abroyles@states­man.com; 912-2504

the base

Tea: Whether you’re brew­ing loose leaf or bagged tea, make it stronger than you would hot tea to com­pen­sate for the ice you’ll even­tu­ally add. You can brew it twice as strong as usual and then pour over a pitcher full of ice to cool quickly.

Agua fresca: Fruits with high wa­ter con­tent such as wa­ter­mel­ons, can­taloupe, hon­ey­dew

mel­ons, cu­cum­bers, pineap­ple and mango are the per­fect base for this Mex­i­can drink. Cut up about 4 cups of fruit into pieces and purée in batches with 1 or 2 cups of wa­ter in a blender or food pro­ces­sor. Strain any seeds or pulp left be­hind and di­lute with about 8 cups of wa­ter.

Le­mon­ade or limeade: Keep your eyes peeled for in­ex­pen­sive lemons and limes at Mex­i­can meat mar­kets and eth­nic gro­cery stores. To pre­vent lemons and limes from dry­ing out into rock-hard golf balls, store them in a zip­pered­top plas­tic bag in the fridge. When you’re ready to squeeze, zap the fruits in the mi­crowave for 20 or 30 sec­onds, which will al­low you to get more juice out of each le­mon or lime. For a medium tart fi­nal prod­uct, mix 1 cup freshly squeezed le­mon or lime juice with about 5 cups of wa­ter.

Shrub: Want to try some­thing to­tally new? Make a shrub — a colo­nial-era drink of fruit such as blue­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries, black­ber­ries or even gin­ger mar­i­nated in brandy, rum or vine­gar for a few days. Af­ter the fruit has mar­i­nated in the liq­uid, mash the mix­ture, add sugar or sim­ple syrup, strain the seeds and pulp and then di­lute with about 8 cups wa­ter or soda.

Sparkling wa­ter, seltzer, tonic, club soda: Make your own fla­vored soda such as gin­ger ale by adding sim­ple syrup to one of these fizzy liq­uids. To pack the most bang for your bub­bles, use a con­cen­trated sim­ple syrup made with 2 parts sugar to 1 part wa­ter.

The sweet

Most sim­ple syrups are made from a ra­tio of equal parts sugar and wa­ter, but you can make a thicker syrup with 2 or 3 parts sugar to 1 part wa­ter for if you don’t want to di­lute your start­ing liq­uid or if you want to driz­zle it on ice cream or cake.

In a saucepan, com­bine 1 part sugar with 1 part wa­ter and bring to a boil for one minute. Add in­gre­di­ents (see box for sug­ges­tions) and let steep. For dried pep­pers or fruits, or fi­brous or woody herbs and spices such as car­damom, lemon­grass, cin­na­mon sticks or gin­ger, let steep overnight or con­tinue sim­mer­ing on the stove for five min­utes. For more del­i­cate herbs, turn off the heat and let steep un­til cool. (You can also add 11⁄ tea­spoon fla­vored ex­tract such as

2 vanilla, co­conut or al­mond af­ter you’ve boiled the syrup.) Strain through a small mesh colan­der and store in a clean jar, bot­tle or plas­tic con­tainer in the re­frig­er­a­tor. Most sim­ple syrups will keep for at least three months.

An­other way to fla­vor the syrup is to start with 1 part wa­ter, 1 part fla­vored liq­uid such as lime juice, cran­berry juice, pome­gran­ate juice or co­conut wa­ter and 2 parts sugar.

The booze (op­tional)

Sim­ple syrups have al­ways been a bar­tender’s best friend, and you might find that once you start play­ing with fla­vor com­bi­na­tions in syrups, you be­gin tak­ing the booze part of the equa­tion a lit­tle more se­ri­ously. For those of you want­ing to keep it sim­ple, just add an ounce of vodka, whiskey, gin, rum or te­quila and maybe a splash of con­cen­trated liqueur to your drink.

The flair (op­tional)

A sum­mer drink isn’t a sum­mer drink un­less it has ice in it, so keep in mind that the big­ger the ice cubes, the slower they melt. No one wants to sip on a home­made blue­berry le­mon soda if it’s luke­warm.

To re­ally take your palate on an ad­ven­ture, try adding a dash of bal­samic vine­gar to drinks such as the pur­ple basil le­mon­ade. (See recipe at right.) If you’d like to add a sprig of mint for pre­sen­ta­tion, slap it be­tween your hands to re­lease the fra­grant oils. A lit­tle grated nut­meg or zest will do as much for the nose as the palate, and star anise makes a pretty gar­nish all on its own. You can add a splash of car­bon­ated wa­ter to al­most any drink to give it a lift.

A Blue­berry Shrub drink sweet­ened with fig and car­damom sim­ple syrup is a per­fect base for a tonic or seltzer re­fresh­ment. Add a splash of gin to make it a cock­tail. (See recipe, D4)

A sim­ple syrup made with an­cho chiles and mint adds kick to hibis­cus or hibis­cus mint iced tea.

Ad­die Broyles Amer­I­cAn-STATeS­mAn

Add fla­vors such as gin­ger all­spice and nut­meg; an­cho and mint; or basil to the sim­ple syrup ra­tio of 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of wa­ter. Use the syrups to add fla­vor to wa­ter, le­mon­ade, tea, ton­ics and seltzers. The syrups can be stored for three months in the re­frig­er­a­tor.

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