Like many people who love cooking, I loathe throwing food away. This is partly the reason why I have never been a member of a summer vegetable CSA: it’s just too much food for one person, maybe even too much for two or three. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to be a part of one and when T. asked if I could pick up her Roxbury Farm share in her place, I jumped at the chance.
As expected, the haul was huge: two giant heads of lettuce, bagfuls of tender leaves, a big bunch of lacinato kale, an arrowhead cabbage, purple kohlrabi, zucchini, yellow squash, garlic scapes, green onions, Italian parsley, cilantro, and basil. That wasn’t even the entire share; I had to leave some of it at the pick-up site because I couldn’t carry it all.
Back at home, it was food prep triage as I decided what needed to be eaten right away and what could be stored longer and consumed later. Of the most perishable, the basil was at the top of the list.
It is tough to keep basil fresh. If not used quickly, the leaves rapidly and easily oxidize; what starts off as vibrant and green can quickly turn grayish and sad. I’ve found that the best way to keep basil in prime condition is to treat it as you might fresh-cut flowers: stems trimmed, in water, in a vase, and covered with a loose plastic bag. It looks a little awkward on the countertop, but it does the trick. However, even with this nifty storage method, basil doesn’t stay fresh indefinitely.
A giant bunch of basil is a lot to work through unless you are planning on making pesto. As I am frantically trying to empty my fridge and freezer in time for the Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown, I wasn’t looking to make an excess of something to store. Instead, I was trying to think of a way to use up all the basil and consume it in the same day. That’s when the thought came to me: don’t eat it, drink it. Should it be lemonade? No, limeade.
Basil and limes are a lovely pairing. Pungent, herbaceous basil finds its perfect counterpoint in aromatic, tart and juicy limes. There is something that feels a little Thai, a little Vietnamese, a little Mexican in the pairing too — something reminiscent of a tropical beach vacation. Toss in a splash of gin and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice gimlet-esque summer sipper as well.
A word on one of the ingredients in the recipe that is to follow: who would ever have guessed that innocuous-looking agave syrup (nectar, Wikipedia informs me, is a marketing term) was worse for you than high-fructose corn syrup? Whereas high-fructose corn syrup, the bête noire of conscious eaters everywhere, is around 50% fructose, agave syrup can clock in at a whopping 90% fructose.
Consider for a moment how much processing has to occur for that to happen. Nope, it’s not pretty. Furthermore, your liver apparently turns all that almost-pure fructose straight into fat. Joy.
*shakes fist at sky*
The only defenses that I have is that I use it rarely: only when I make lemonade and, I guess now, limeade. Either of which only happens once or twice a year. Plus I hardly eat any processed foods (so abstemious of me, I know!), so my yearly fructose intake is likely low enough that I don’t need to worry about turning my liver into foie gras every summer.
However, if what I just wrote about agave syrup gives you pause, I would recommend making your own simple syrup with cane sugar to use instead. It’s a 1:1 ratio, which means that there are equal parts sugar and hot water. Simply stir the sugar into hot water until it dissolves, and then wait for the syrup to cool completely before using.
Alternatively, you could sweeten your limeade with honey or maple syrup, but I don’t really know what that would taste like as both have strong and distinctive flavors. It might be interesting . . . or it might be gross.
If you have a relatively low-in-fructose diet like myself or just want to throw caution to the wind, by all means reach for the agave!
The leaves from 1 bunch of fresh basil
1 cup of cold water
1 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 6-8 limes)
A scant pinch of salt
A blender or a stick immersion blender
A fine-mesh sieve
How to prepare:
1. Using either a blender or an immersion blender, blend the basil leaves with one cup of cold water until you have a uniform slurry.
2. To this, add the lime juice, the simple syrup or agave syrup, and the scant pinch of salt. Stir everything together and let sit for about 5-7 minutes.
3. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and add enough cold water to make one liter of basil-limeade.
4. To serve, pour over ice. As fresh basil oxidizes quickly, try to drink the basil-limeade the same day it is made.