Summer Herbal Cocktails: New Takes on the Classics

simple syrup, Collins, and Mojito

I haven't met an herb I didn't like. Right now in my garden I have more than a dozen varieties of herbs growing. I have different uses for all of them. Some I love to use when roasting meats or vegetables, like rosemary and sage. I put parsley and mint in my salads. I also use mint in my teas. I use cilantro in guacamole, which I make almost every week. And of course I have a bush of basil for when it comes time to make homemade tomato sauce.

This year I've tried growing Greek basil and Thai basil with great success. My stir-frys and Thai curries are so much better with the addition of Thai basil, which has an anise-like flavor. For years I've been growing lovage, a perennial herb that grows four feet tall every year. Its flavor is a lot like parsley and celery combined, and its tall stalks look much like celery except that they are hollow like bamboo. You might have come across lovage used in a Bloody Mary but not have known what it was. The stalks make very nice straws.

What would our cooking be without herbs? I can't imagine recipes without them. Just think of many of the dishes you eat. You'll probably find a sprinkling of parsley in most. That and cilantro are the most widely used herbs in cooking. But imagine what many of our spirits would be without herbs? Many famous drinks use herbs and/or spices to create their unique flavor profiles. Think of ouzo, pastis, akvavit, J├Ągermeister, bitters, and even some brands of gin. Many cocktails have some type of herb, like the classic mojito, made with mint.

Collins and Mojito

This summer I decided to make good use of my herbs and make cocktails. What would a summer party be without a cocktail or two? When entertaining, it's good practice to offer a couple choices of cocktails just as you would offer red and white wine. Here I have a choice of an herbal and aromatic Lovage Collins (left in picture) and a sweet and exotic Thai Basil Mojito. They're twists on two very classic cocktails. I use lime in both, but a Collins is typically made with lemon juice and has no herbs, whereas a mojito typically has mint, which I replace with Thai basil.

This summer why not try something new? Create a libation or two and don't limit yourself to just using mint as a garnish. Pick up some herbs you've never used before at the farmers' market and try a few in a recipe or a cocktail.

This summer I'm participating in A Way to Garden's Third Annual Summer Fest. Every Wednesday a summer produce will be the theme. This Wednesday it's herbs, greens, and beans. To participate all you have to do is something as simple as leaving a comment or linking to a favorite blog post or informational site. You can share gardening tips, recipes, and/or pictures. Visit the Summer Fest link for more information. Many other blogs are participating and it would be great to see how far the conversation goes.

My favorite recipes using herbs:
Asian Eggplant Stir-Fry with Thai Basil
Fava Bean, Herb, and Avocado Salad on Bruschetta
Dilled Cheese Tart
Drunken Mussels with Leek and Lovage

Lovage Collins

2 lime wedges
10 lovage leaves
2 ounces gin
1 ounce simple syrup, recipe follows
soda water
lovage sprig, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, muddle together lime wedges, lovage leaves, gin, and simple syrup with crushed ice. Pour into a chilled highball glass. Top off with soda water. Garnish with lovage sprig. Yield: 1 drink.

Thai Basil Mojito

2 lime wedges
10 Thai basil leaves
2 ounces white rum
1 ounce simple syrup, recipe follows
soda water
Thai basil sprig, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, muddle together lime wedges, Thai basil leaves, rum, and simple syrup with crushed ice. Pour into a chilled highball glass. Top off with soda water. Garnish with Thai basil sprig. Yield: 1 drink.

Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Simmer until dissolved and thick syrup forms. Once cooled, store the syrup in a jar in the refrigerator until ready to use. Yield: 1 cup.