Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chilling Out with Herbal-Infused Drinks

Minted Apple Juice and Basil Berry Spritzer

Let your herb garden punch up the flavor in your usual lemonade, fruity spritzers and other cool drinks that help you beat the heat during summer. I came up with the idea for this Deseret News story when I was at Deer Valley's Savor the Summit dinner. They were serving a cocktail called Rosemary Radler, a rosemary-infused lemonade mixed with High West vodka and Squatters Provo Girl Pilsner. Since I don't drink alcohol, I asked for the rosemary lemonade by itself, and I was pleasantly surprised. The pine-y essence of rosemary gave a compelling edge to the usual lemonade, in the same way that adding a squeeze of lemon or lime gives a little more flavor to a soft drink.  The next day at home, I tried perking up my sugar-free lemonade with some basil from my garden, and loved the combination. I've already made batches of lavender lemonade after doing a story on lavender a few years ago. So, a story idea was born.    
Herbal Essence: Adding a Hint of Flavor to Cool Drinks

Lemonades with infused with rosemary, basil, and lavender.

Basil, rosemary and thyme are most often used in savory dishes, but they can add an unexpected complexity when infused with beverages. I really like adding mint to sweet apple juice. 
Since I have basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, oregano, lavender and sage growing in my yard, I started experimenting. I wasn't happy with the sage and oregano-infused drinks; maybe I didn't mingle them with the right fruit punches. But you can always experiment and see what you like. 
Spiking your drinks with a few herbs can also be a somewhat healthy habit. After all, herbal teas have been used for centuries. But modern-day researchers are finding antioxidants in herbs that may protect cells from damage that lead to cancer. 
Watermelon-Basil Cooler
"How that translates to health benefits for humans is yet to be seen, but we don't need to wait for all the research to include herbs in our foods and beverages," said Alice Bender, a registered dietitian with the American Institute for Cancer Research. "You've found a delicious and beautiful way to include foods with potential cancer-fighting substances."
Rosemary & White Grape Juice Chiller
Of course, she cautions, no one food can protect you from cancer or chronic disease. The flavors from a few sprigs probably won't save your life, but it can't hurt. And if it gets you to drink more liquids to stay hydrated, well, that's a good thing.
The AICR and other health organizations recommend avoiding sugary beverages because they contribute to overweight and obesity. Even 100 percent fruit juice should be limited to no more than a cup per day, but when you pour it over crushed ice, you dilute the sweetness.  If you want fizz, add club soda, which is sugar- and calorie-free. I added diet lemon-lime soda to some of my drinks, and it was really refreshing with no added calories.

Some tips that I found from my experiments:
-Aim for subtle flavor. Too much of an herb makes a drink bitter and astringent-tasting. Fortunately, ice-cold beverages tend to dull the flavors a little.
-If you really don't like the flavor of a certain herb in savory dishes such as soup or spaghetti sauce, you probably won't like it in a drink, either. Try a little in a one-cup serving before adding it to a whole pitcher full of lemonade.
-Most of the time, it's best to chop up an herb and let it steep in the liquid awhile to infuse the flavor. Then strain out the old, spent leaves it before serving. Then add a fresh sprig for garnish when serving.
- If you're using a fizzy drink, you'll want to serve it right away while the drink is still fizzy. You can finely chop the herbs so they're palatable, or just use a sprig of the herb as a stirrer or fragrant garnish. You'll still get a hint of the flavor.

Minted Apple Juice
1 can frozen apple juice concentrate
3 cans water
2-3 sprigs of mint leaves (about 1/4 cup), coarsely chopped
Club soda, if desired
Mix the apple juice in a large pitcher.  Add the mint leaves. Refrigerate 1-2 hours. Pour the juice through a strainer and discard the spent leaves.
Serve over crushed ice, garnished with a few more sprigs of mint.  Add club soda if you want some fizz.  Makes 4-6 servings.
— Valerie Phillips
Basil Lemonade or Limeade
1 package diet lemonade or limeade mix, such as Crystal Light, prepared according to package directions
1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, torn or coarsely chopped
Add the basil to the pitcher or lemonade. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours.  Pour the lemonade through a strainer to remove the spent leaves.
Serve over crushed ice, with basil sprigs for garnish, if desired.
Makes 4-6 servings.
— Valerie Phillips

Thyme Out Ginger Ale
This is for those who prefer more "edge" than sweetness.
1 12-ounce can diet ginger ale soda
1 small sprig thyme, finely chopped
Place the thyme in a glass with crushed ice. Pour the ginger ale over the ice and thyme. Serves 1.
—Valerie Phillips

Watermelon-Basil Cooler
6-7 cups seedless watermelon, in chunks (about 1/3 of a medium-size watermelon)
1-2 sprigs basil leaves (about 2 tablespoons)
Pinch of salt
Place the melon in a blender with the basil leaves. Puree until mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until well-chilled before serving, or serve over ice.
Makes about 2-3 servings.
— Valerie Phillips

Rosemary Lemonade or Limeade
1 can frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate (or 1 package diet lemonade mix), prepared according to package directions
3-4 sprigs rosemary, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
Mix the rosemary with the lemonade. Let steep in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Strain into a pitcher. Serve over crushed ice, garnished with rosemary sprigs. Makes 4-6 servings.
— Valerie Phillips

Rosemary Grape Chiller
1 can frozen white grape juice concentrate, prepared according to package directions
3-4 sprigs rosemary, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
Mix the grape juice and rosemary. Chill in the refrigerator 1-2 hours. Strain into a pitcher. Serve over crushed ice, garnished with rosemary sprigs. Makes 4-6 servings.

Berry Basil Spritzer
1-2 cups frozen or fresh berries, such as blueberries, raspberries or chopped strawberries
2 liter bottle club soda or diet lemon-lime soda, well-chilled
4-6 sprigs basil
Divide the berries evenly among 4 to 6 glasses, depending on how large your glasses are. Pour the soda over the berries. Add a sprig of basil to each drink as a garnish.
— Valerie Phillips

Lavender Lemonade
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 cups water, divided
12 lavender stems, or about 1/4 cup of dried lavender
2 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
Ice cubes
Lavender sprigs and lemon slices for garnish
Place the sugar and 2 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Add the lavender, cover, and remove from heat. Let the mixture stand for at least 20 minutes and up to several hours.
Strain the mixture, discarding the lavender blossoms. Pour into a glass pitcher. Add the lemon juice and another 2 1/2 cups of water. Stir well. Taste and add more sugar, water or lemon as desired. Serve in pretty glasses over ice.
— Peggy Nelson, Purple Apple Fa

1 comment:

Jen @ Jens Favorite Cookies said...

These sound wonderful! I would love to try that basil lemonade or the thyme ginger ale. I've been growing thyme in my pot garden this year, so I have the perfect excuse to make this!