In the 1990s, when Rory and I were not yet married and living in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, CA, we drank a lot of inexpensive liquor from Trader Joe’s. When the store’s supply of a favorite tangerine aquavit ran out, I decided to make my own by infusing vodka. We had some lemons purchased very inexpensively from a nearby Middle Eastern market and a bottle of vodka from where else but Trader Joe’s. I used a vegetable peeler to obtain strips of lemon peel and then dropped them in the vodka bottle.
We went out for an hour-long walk and upon our return home, the vodka was pale yellow and eventually, it turned practically florescent yellow with a nice lemony flavor. I can't remember what we did to dispose of all the vodka but it must've been fun.
Flash forward to November 2015 when I I discovered that the California drought had blessed my little kaffir (makrut) lime tree with a relative bounty of fruit. Up until this year, I’ve only gotten leaves from the tree. I harvested the six limes and kept them in the fridge. They are very precious, and I’m strategically trying to figure out what to do with them. People on Facebook and Instagram suggested a Thai curry paste, hair wash, and something boozy. I tackled the liquor option first because it’s the easiest.
DIY Lime-Infused Vodka
Last weekend, I experimented with just 1 kaffir lime (the peel of the wild limes have about double the intensity of regular limes). I used a vegetable peeler to obtain the peel from the lime, then put it into a glass jar with 1 1/2 cups of Kirkland brand American vodka. (Practice on inexpensive liquor before stepping up to top-shelf booze has always been my motto.)
I left the jar on the kitchen counter and everyday opened it for a sniff test. It smelled stronger daily and after 3 days, the peel looked kind of yellow and spent. The vodka tasted of kaffir lime and less like pure vodka. Most people do not have kaffir limes and I think you can certainly use the peel of two medium limes or one giant one in the same amount of vodka. It may only take 24 hours, depending on the citrus and quantity. Monitor and taste it to see when it’s ‘done.’
What to do with the vodka? I came up with three cocktail ideas that are very simple, fun and based on classic cocktails -- a vodka tonic, Moscow mule, and bloody Mary.
The ingredients I used are things that I have in my pantry (tonic, ginger beer, canned tomato juice), fridge (limes, ginger, homemade sriracha), and backyard (lime leaf, chiles, and lemongrass). You may or may not have these items but these drinks are flexible enough for you to use what you have at hand. What you need is the citrus-infused vodka. While it’s doing its thing, you can dream up cocktail ideas. All I did was swap my Southeast Asian-esque vodka for regular vodka. My rationale:
Kaffir Tonic - Lime-infused vodka has a refreshing, slight bitterness that goes well with tonic. The result is interestingly somewhere in between a vodka and a gin and tonic. The photo is at the top of this post.
Bangkok Mule – Lime and ginger make great friends. When I order a Moscow mule at a bar, there’s never enough gingery oomph in it. At home, I use my favorite brand of ginger beer (Fever Tree) and a slice of bruised fresh ginger.
Makrut Mary – Another term for kaffir lime is makrut. Using the lime-infused vodka for a bloody Mary invited my use of fish sauce instead of Worcestershire sauce, white pepper instead of black pepper, sriracha instead of Tabasco, and a lemongrass stirrer instead of celery stalk. It’s a Southeast Asian bloody Mary.
Below are the recipes that I came up with. Note that a regular-size ice cube is one that’s made in an old-fashioned ice tray. Each is roughly 2 tablespoons of water.
Yield: 1 drink
- 2 ounces Homemade Lime-Infused Vodka (see the instructions above in text)
- 4 or 5 regular-size icecubes
- Tonic, such as Q
- Lime wedge
- 1 Kaffir or other kind of lime leaf, for garnish
Instructions: Pour the vodka into a highball glass, and 4 or 5 ice cubes, then fill with the tonic. Squeeze the lime wedge over the glass then drop it in. Decorate with a lime leaf if you like.
Yield: 1 drink
- 2 ounces Homemade Lime-Infused Vodka(see the instructions above in text)
- 4 or 5 regular-size ice cubes
- Lime wedge
- Ginger beer, such as Fever Tree
- 1 thin slice of unpeeled ginger
Instructions: Pour the vodka into a tumbler or double old fashioned glass. Add 4 or 5 ice cubes, then squeeze the lime wedge and drop it into the glass. Add ginger beer to fill, then give it a stir. Gently bruise the ginger slice with the broadside of a knife then drop into the glass. Serve.
Yield: 1 drink
- 1 1/2 ounces Homemade Lime-Infused Vodka (see the instructions above in text)
- 3 ounces tomato juice, such as Campbell's
- 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sriracha sauce, homemade or purchased
- 2 dashes fish sauce
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- Small pinch of white pepper
- 5 ice cubes, plus more as needed
- 5-inches lemongrass stalk, for garnish
- 1 Thai chile, partially split lengthwise, for garnish
Instructions: Put all the ingredients except the lemongrass and chili into a cocktail shaker. Vigorously shake for 15 to 20 seconds until the shaker is frosty cold. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass. Add 2 or 3 ice cubes, then garnish with a lemon grass and chile.
if you don't get to these cocktails for New Year, there's always Lunar New Year or any time of the year for that matter. Cheers.
Other cocktail recipes on this site: