Homemade Basil Limeade

Tastes like a summer.

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 cabbagepurple 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.

But like that poor pair in Brokeback MountainI wish I knew how to quit you, Evil Agave Nectar. You and your clean, bright-tasting sweetness. You and how easily you dissolve in cold liquids.

*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!

Ingredients:

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)

Simple syrup or agave syrup to taste (I used about 2/3 cup of agave syrup)

A scant pinch of salt

Special equipment:

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.

Guest Post from Lucas: Fresh Mint Tea, Chemist in the Bottle-Style

I Heart Tea!
A note from Daisy: For many of you, Lucas needs no introduction. For those who don’t know him yet, he is the wonderful Polish blogger and outstanding cosmetic chemistry student behind Chemist in the Bottle. Although he writes primarily about perfume, he is also a hardcore foodie. It has been meltingly hot and humid lately and to help beat the heat, I have asked him to share his refreshing recipe for mint tea. It is a bit different from how I prepare it here in the States (i.e., brew something potent, pour it over ice, add more ice), but I love learning about how people elsewhere keep cool via what they eat and what they drink.

As my parents are still visiting, I am very happy to hand the blog over to Lucas this week! I hope that you enjoy his post as much as I do. 

By Lucas

Summer is an amazing season. Once the school year is over and children begin enjoying their vacation, people become more relaxed and everyone seems to be much happier than just a few months ago. Clear skies and sunshine are what give us endorphins, the hormones of happiness. However, when the temperature rises to dangerous levels, summer is no longer so much fun. The constant heat is hard to enjoy — especially when you have to sit in an office building or you don’t have air conditioning (or even a fan).

To counter the heat, I’d like to share a couple variations on my recipe for fresh summer mint tea. It’s a really refreshing drink that is very easy and fast to make.

You will need:

  • Fresh mint leaves
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Salt

Let’s make a cold mint tea first! There are two methods to make it:

METHOD 1 – hot brew – cold drink

Take two fresh mint leaves if you’re making a single cup, or 5-6 leaves if you want to prepare a liter’s worth of tea. Put the mint leaves into your cup or pot. Boil some water. When the water is hot, pour in just enough to drown the leaves. You only want to cover the bottom of your cup or pot. Let it sit until the water is cool. During this time, the leaves will transfer their flavor and a little bit of their color to the water. Next, add enough cold water to fill your cup or pot and put it in the fridge to chill. After about 2-3 hours, your icy mint tea should be almost ready. Now you can add a slice of lemon and lime to add a citrus taste to your drink. Voilà! The tea is ready!

METHOD 2 – cold brew – cold drink

Take the same amount of fresh mint leaves and crush them with a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle in your kitchen, simply chop the leaves roughly with a knife or use scissors to cut them into smaller pieces. Fill the pot with the water and leave it in the fridge overnight. The next day, your water will have a light green tinge. The color will be more intense than if you had used the hot brew method, as cutting the leaves helps the pigment and flavor to transfer more easily to the water. Pouring hot water over cut or crushed leaves will cause your tea to taste more intense and be darker. This is called infusion. Add a slice of lemon and/or lime for an even more refreshing twist. For this cold beverage, ice cubes are optional. Please be aware that if you add a lot of them, the tea will be more diluted. I rarely add ice to my cup but when I do, it’s usually only 2 ice cubes. Neither of these methods (infusion or hot brew) make a very strong tea so you don’t want to lose the charming flavor of fresh mint by adding more frozen water to it.

METHOD 3 – hot brew – hot drink

Both of the methods above produce a cold drink. However, you must believe me when I say that it’s sometimes good to drink something hot when it’s hot outside. This might sound ridiculous and ridiculously unappealing (I mean, who wants to have a hot drink when it’s scorching outside?) but I have found that when it’s 35°C (that’s 95°F) outside, you can feel refreshed and less tired of the heat after you treat yourself to a hot liquid.

Once again, take 2 fresh mint leaves, 5 for a pot’s worth, and cover them with hot, but not boiling water. Wait about 10 to 15 minutes for the tea to be properly infused. Toss in a slice of lemon, lime, or both and enjoy your hot beverage. Did you notice that the heat isn’t so tiring now? 🙂

As a matter of taste, I have to mention something about lemons and limes: if you prefer your tea to be less bitter, cut off the rind of your slice before you add it into your mint tea. The limonene present in citrus fruits is at its highest concentration in the yellow, orange or green rinds. If you have nothing against tasting a refreshing bitterness, feel free to include the rind. Its limonene and tannins are responsible for the sensation that you are enjoying.

One more thing: did you notice sodium chloride, or salt in the ingredients? On super hot days, you should always add a tiny bit into your tea. We sweat more when it’s hot out and our bodies lose their necessary minerals faster. Just a few crystals of salt will help to keep the balance of chloride anions and sodium cations in your body. Cl- are especially important in our body cells. For just a cup of tea, a pinch is enough (that should be just a couple of grains, no more!) For a liter, add about a ¼ teaspoon salt. Regardless of how you brew your tea, the salt should be added at the end, either with lemon or lime, or right afterwards. Don’t forget to stir your tea to ensure that all the crystals are properly dissolved.

In Poland, mint is a pretty seasonal garden plant so when I get some leafy sprigs of mint, I like to keep some fresh and dry the rest on my balcony in the sun. If you have fresh mint, you can do this too and enjoy your mint tea made from fresh leaves even after the summer months are over. If you dry your own leaves, remember that you should use a hot brew preparation for them. A cold method will take ages for the dried leaves to infuse the water.

If you can’t get fresh mint, you can use regular mint tea packed in bags or sachets. Use one sachet for one cup and two for the pot. If using tea bags or sachets, the hot water method of making iced tea is better. The cold infusion method works well too, but it will take longer — around 24 hours — and will give a very light brew with gentle flavor. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is ideal for summer evenings when you want something calming before going to sleep.

I hope you enjoyed this post and will enjoy your homemade fresh summer mint tea, which is delicious and all natural. Let me know in the comments if you decide to prepare it. I would also love to hear what you think after you drank a cup or two!

One last note from Daisy: All these photos are courtesy of Lucas! I’m sure you’ll agree with me that if he ever decides to drop out of school, he could be one heck of a great photographer and/or food stylist 🙂 Thank you so much, Lucas!