Come 5pm, it’s time for a drinkie in our home. Most days it’s a glass of wine but last Tuesday, I was looking at the sprigs of lemon basil on the counter and thought of making a drink. My friend and beverage maestro, Jeff Bareilles, was over the night before to tinker with banh mi-inspired cocktails for the upcoming book launch party.
Jeff has a way with crafting cocktails from an ingredient up – not from the booze itself, but from an aromatic, fruit, condiment etc. Most bartenders let the spirits drive the cocktail, but Jeff lets other elements direct the cocktail. He adds the liquor to complement the featured ingredient.
I’m not a mixologist but I had the lemon basil and thought of rum for a tropical, mojito-esque drink. The basil was extremely fragrant, with lemongrass and mint overtones. Local farmers sold it with roots attached so I clipped the roots and stuck the herb in a container of water. It remained fresh on the counter for nearly 2 weeks. I clipped the ends every other day and changing the water – just like a bouquet of fresh-picked flowers.
Normally I’m not that lucky with keeping purchased herbs at room temperature unless I harvested them from the garden. This lemon basil grown by Route 1 farm was like fresh-picked and much heartier than the delicate kind I typically buy from Hmong farmers. I've tried growing it but bugs eat it up like crazy.
I went a few rounds to make what turned out to be a very green, somewhat 'healthy' looking cocktail; that lemon basil had punch. Palm sugar stood in for regular sugar and I chose Barcardi rum and Hansen’s soda water. A good pinch of sea salt served to anchor the flavors with savory depth. Lime juice is often in mojito but I didn’t think this needed it, hence it’s not made in the true Mojito tradition.
I don’t like the bits of mint leaf in mojito so when I make it at home, I strain the cocktail into my glass. This cocktail was good on the first trial and by the third attempt, I was satisfied. In fact, I was proud enough to serve my husband the drink with this charming cocktail napkin that he inherited from his Auntie Hank, a one-armed woman who enjoyed daily martinis and cigarettes till lung cancer took her life.
What’s up with the glass? I recycled that from a container of commercially made mole.
Feel free to use different kinds of herbs. Japanese shiso or Vietnamese tia to would be fabulous. So would Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi). I wonder if gin would be good, or if the palm sugar syrup would work in lieu of the regular palm sugar, which you have to work to break up. I guess I can try a few more times because I don’t mind.
You can hardly go wrong with this. Bottoms up!
Lemon Basil Cocktail
Yields: 1 drink
- 20 to 24 lemon basil leaves
- 2 teaspoons firmly packed shaved palm sugar or brown sugar
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 2 ounces rum, such as Bacardi gold
- 3 or 4 ice cubes
- Club soda or sparkling water
- Basil sprig, for garnish
- In a shaker, crush the basil, sugar, and salt. Add the rum and continue crushing and pounding to extract flavors from the basil and blend well. Taste and add extra sugar or salt.
- Strain into a glass filled with ice. Top with soda water. Stir and garnish with the sprig of basil.
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