Beat the heat: Quench your thirst with icy drinks laced with garden-fresh flavors

Story by Valerie Phillips
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Jul 1, 2013
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So far, Utah is having one of the driest summers on record. Time to chill out with icy, thirst-quenching drinks. To perk them up, why not spike your usual sippers with garden-fresh flavor twists?

For instance, lime or watermelon drinks are even more refreshing with cooling cucumber. Although they’re usually found in savory dishes, herbs can be the surprise ingredient in sweet spritzers. A handful of fresh-picked basil, rosemary or lavender adds an unexpected complexity to basic lemonade — or even a sugar-free lemonade mix. Since so many Southwestern dishes use the lime/cilantro combo, why not try them in a drink? A few mint sprigs gives plain apple juice gets a lift.

If you’ve got some of these herbs growing in your garden, just snip off a few sprigs and you’ve got herbal essences.

Berry & Basil Melon Spritzer is a solution to the bad-watermelon blues. Even with all of the thumping and inspecting, there’s a good chance that you’ll buy a watermelon that’s underripe and pithy, or overripe and mushy, or just lacking in sweet, summery flavor.

Instead of letting it sit in the fridge until it goes bad, give it a spin in the blender to solve the texture problem. You still get the flavor and nutrients of the watermelon. If you use a diet soda or plain club soda to supply the fizz, it’s low in calories, too.

Or turn the melon into Watermelon Gazpacho, a riff on the cold Spanish soup that’s usually made with tomatoes. With cucumbers, onions and basil, it’s got a savory-sweet thing going on.

Herbs can be a healthy habit, too, since researchers say herbs have lots of antioxidants that may protect cells from damage that lead to cancer. That’s not saying that you’ll get enough antioxidants from a glass of rosemary lemonade to keep you cancer-free, but it won’t hurt.

“How this all 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,” wrote Alice Bender, a registered dietitian with the American Institute for Cancer Research in an email interview. “You’ve found a delicious and beautiful way to include foods with potential cancer-fighting substances.”

Of course, she cautions, no one food can protect you from cancer or chronic disease. Also, the AICR and other health organizations recommend avoiding high-sugar beverages that contribute to overweight and obesity. Even 100 percent fruit juice should be limited to no more than a cup per day.

“But with herbs and sparkling water, the flavor can be great. A lighter beverage for summer is more refreshing,” wrote Bender.

The sweetness of lemonade and fruit punches are diluted by pouring over crushed ice. Adding club soda gives a sugar- and calorie-free fizz.

When adding herbs to drinks, aim for subtle flavor. Too much of an herb makes a drink bitter or soapy-tasting. And, certain herbs may not be your cup of (herbal) tea.

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. Experiment by trying a teaspoon of the herb in a one-cup serving before adding it to a whole pitcher full of juice or limeade.

Most of the time, it’s best to chop up an herb and let it steep in the liquid for an hour or so to infuse the flavor. Then strain out the old, spent leaves before serving. If desired, add a fresh sprig for garnish.

Cucumber Limeade

2 quarts crushed ice

12-ounce can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed

2-liter bottle lemon-lime soda (can be sugar-free)

1 large cucumber, thinly sliced

Place the ice in a large pitcher or a glass drink dispenser. Add the limeade concentrate. Add cucumber slices, then soda. Stir a few times to mix ingredients before serving. Serves 10-20, depending on the size of the glasses.

— Valerie Phillips

Berry & Basil Melon Spritzer

5 cups diced watermelon, seeds removed

1 tablespoon fresh basil

2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries, or a combination of mixed berries

12-ounce can diet lemon-lime soda, chilled (or 12 ounces club soda or seltzer water)

Puree the melon and 1 cup of the berries in the blender (or with a handheld blender) until smooth. Place several ice cubes or about 1/2 cup crushed ice in each glass. Pour some of the watermelon mixture into each glass. Add a few of the whole berries. Top off the drinks with some of the soda. Garnish with a watermelon wedge, a sprig of mint, or berries on a toothpick, if desired. Serves 2-4, depending on the size of the glasses used.

— Valerie Phillips

Watermelon Gazpacho

1 medium cucumber, peeled and coarsely diced

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

6-8 cups diced seedless watermelon (about half a medium-size seedless watermelon)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

Place the ingredients in a blender. Puree in a blender until chunky-smooth. Refrigerate until just before serving. Makes about 5 cups.

— “Soup’s On!” by Valerie Phillips (Covenant, 2012)

Apple Mint Julep

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

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.

— Valerie Phillips

Herbal Essence Lemonade

Option: Instead of making fresh lemonade, you may use 1 can of frozen lemonade concentrate or a diet lemonade mix, prepared according to package directions.

6 large lemons ( or about 1 to 1 1/2 cups lemon juice)

1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar

4 cups water

Roll each lemon on the counter, pressing into them with your palm. Cut lemons in half and squeeze out the juice. Add sugar and water and stir vigorously until sugar dissolves. Taste, and add more sugar, lemon juice or water if desired.

Lavender Lemonade: Stir 10-12 lavender stems, or about 1/4 cup dried lavender, into the pitcher of lemonade. Allow to steep at least 1 hour. Strain the lemonade, discarding the lavender blossoms. Serve over crushed ice. You may also top it off with lemon-lime soda or club soda.

Basil Lemonade: Add about 1/4 cup torn basil leaves to the pitcher of lemonade. Allow to steep at least one hour. Strain the lemonade, discarding the spent basil leaves. Serve over crushed ice, adding a few basil leaves for garnish. You may also top it off with lemon-lime soda or club soda.

Rosemary Lemonade: Add 3-4 large sprigs of rosemary (about 1/4 cup), snipped into pieces. Allow mixture to steep at least one hour. Strain the lemonade, discarding the rosemary leaves. Serve over crushed ice, adding a few rosemary leaves for garnish. You may also top it off with lemon-lime soda or club soda.

— Valerie Phillips

Cilantro Limeade

Option: You may use a 12-ounce can of frozen limeade concentrate, mixed according to the package directions, in place of the juice, sugar and water.

6-8 limes (or about 1 cup lime juice)

1/2 to 1 cup sugar (to taste)

1 quart (4 cups) water

1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

1 to 2 liters lemon-lime soda, or club soda (optional)

Roll each lime on the counter while pressing it with the palm on your hand, to break down the membranes for easier juicing. Cut each lime in half and squeeze out as much juice as possible. Add the juice to a 2-quart pitcher. Add sugar and water, and stir vigorously until sugar dissolves. Taste, and add more sugar, juice or water if desired.

Stir in cilantro leaves. Refrigerate drink for one hour. Strain to remove spent leaves (or use a handheld blender to puree the leaves). Pour into ice-filled glasses. Top off each glass with lemon-lime soda (such as Sprite or 7-up) or club soda, if desired. Serves 6-8, depending on the size of the glasses.

— Valerie Phillips

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