I was wearing my travel-agent hat for the better part of the day today. I found myself scouring through various travel publications and last-minute travel websites in search of a holiday destination for a quick getaway; a curious fact considering that my husband and I are just coming off the heels of a 3-week winter holiday, but they say, “no man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one” and so, we are clearly an exemplification of that adage. So all this talk about holidays and destinations boasting balmy beaches and resorts, left me with a hankering for a sweet elixir of sorts; a cool summery drink to suit the mood I was in. So perhaps you’re thinking that this drink is not conducive to this time of year, but I beg to differ. What better time is there than the dead of winter to whip up a pitcher of sweet lemonade, kick up your heels, and reminisce about past holidays spent in warmer climates.
This particular drink is one we first enjoyed in Dubai; a drink that was introduced to us by our good friends from across the pond, Naveen and Rehan. It has become a quick favourite in our home. The recipe is indigenous to the Middle East with Syria, Turkey and Lebanon all having claimed credit for the origins of this sweet drink. It’s the type of drink that hits the spot on a cold winter’s day spent indoors, as much as it does on a sweltering hot day in the peak of summer. The flavour is very much what you’d expect of a lemonade — a balance of sweetness and tartness — but there’s a residual taste of fresh mint that livens the drink completely and transforms it from your run-of-the-mill, pedestrian lemonade to a higher flavour profile. The colour is deep and gorgeous and intensifies as it sits in the bottle or pitcher. The texture is similar to that of a margarita as the slush from the crushed ice rises to the top creating a foam of sorts that is both beautiful to look at and adds a textural element with the crunch of pulverized ice cubes.
Making the simple syrup to sweeten the lemonade is a step that is not to be skipped. You might be tempted to just dump granulated sugar into the blender with water and hope that it dissolves completely, but the reality is that the sugar crystals will take much longer to dissolve in cold water and will leave a gritty residue that will settle at the bottom of your pitcher. Be sure to heat the water and sugar together in a pot for a few minutes. It doesn’t need to come to a boil. The sugar will likely dissolve long before that, so bring it just up to a warm temperature to melt the sugar and create a loose syrup.
I used a hand-held lemon reamer since there were only 5 lemons to juice; too few to justify pulling out the ol’ juicer. After you extract all of the juice from the lemons, separate and pick out the seeds using a fork or by hand, but don’t strain the mixture since you’ll want to keep the pieces of flesh that come out with the lemon juice. In fact, I actually took a spoon to the emptied lemons and scraped up all of the little bits of pulp that remained and added that to the blender for added flavour. The beautiful thing about this recipe is that it can so easily be tailored to suit anyone’s palate with little to no instruction. I would advise making the recipe as I’ve indicated and if you find, for example, that it’s too sweet for your liking, add a little more lemon juice to increase the tartness or water it down a bit. If you’re not a raving fan of mint, you can cut it back to half a cup if desired, which will yield both a lighter colour and flavour.
10 ounces (295 ml) lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 5 medium lemons)
3 cups cold water, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup mint leaves (or one bunch)
10+ ice cubes
Prepare the syrup: Combine 1 cup of water and sugar in a small saucepan. Warm on medium heat just until the sugar dissolves (this should happen before the mixture comes to a boil). Set aside to cool completely.
Blending the lemonade: Remove the mint leaves from their stems. (The ‘bunch’ of mint should equal one packed cup of mint – i.e. the leaves should be put into a cup measure and pressed gently to ensure they are lightly packed into the cup.) In a blender, combine cooled sugar syrup, the freshly squeezed lemon juice, the mint leaves, and 2 cups of water. Blend to pulverize the mint completely. Once the mixture is entirely green, continue to add ice cubes and blend until a slush of finely crushed ice gathers on the top of the mixture. You may need more or less than 10 ice cubes depending on the size of your ice cubes, so add two at a time until you reach the desired consistency. If you decide to omit the ice cubes and just serve it as a chilled lemonade, taste the lemonade before serving as you may need to add another 1/2 cup of water or more to dilute the sweetness of the mixture. If you are including the ice cubes, there is no need to add extra water as the ice cubes you’ve added will melt into the mixture to mellow out the sweetness. Serve chilled with a lemon wheel or wedge and a sprig of mint.