Spicy Melon Cocktail

Spicy Melon Cocktail // stirandstrain.comToday is one of those days where I’m really not sure what story I want to tell you guys. I originally posted this on Serious Eats last week and if you want, you could read what I wrote about street food vendors over there. I did edit it so that my roadside vendor food poisoning stories did not make an appearance in the article (didn’t seem fitting for the general public). But I still don’t see that as a fitting topic on here either. I guess I could just put up a bunch of photos and give you the recipe. You’d all be OK with that right? Or maybe we can talk about impulse grocery shopping?

Spicy Melon Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

The base of this cocktail is the summer melon pictured above. I actually bought this little guy based solely on a photo I saw online. One great thing about living in a major city like Los Angeles is the sheer number of delivery services available to us. Did you guys see the Booze News where I mentioned you can get booze delivered by underwear models? Yeah, that’s a thing here. But not everything is pointless like that. We have so many farmer’s markets in all corners of the city that one would just assume that on every given day you could drive or bike or walk over to one of them, get your produce for the week and carry on. Somehow that just wasn’t working out for me. Work, unfortunately, was becoming a 7 day a week affair and breaking to get fresh, local produce was suddenly becoming a far away dream. Spicy Melon Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

In the past, we’ve used a few of the CSA delivery services. Which, for the most part are awesome and ensures we get fresh, local produce thrown at us every week. The problem was: it wasn’t always what we wanted to work with, or quantities were just wrong. For example, how the hell does one lemon suffice for a whole week? Answer: it doesn’t.

About a month ago we tried out a new service that combined both CSA boxes, single produce items and dairy and pantry staples. Pretty much like a virtual farmer’s market. With free delivery. That melon sat on the page, looking delicious and so more appealing than a regular cantaloupe (even if it was just, well, a cantaloupe). So I impulse bought it. In fact, I impulsively added a whole bunch of stuff into my cart. And then I saw the price. And then I slowly decided what to put back. I mean, part of being able to pick exactly what you want is also so that you’re not wasting food; I absolutely hate throwing anything uneaten in the trash. Spicy Melon Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

This post is in no way sponsored by this delivery service, which if you’re interested you can check out Good Eggs yourself. They have no idea how much time and effort they are saving me. I’m just admitting to you all how sometimes in life I like to throw money at my problems to try and make them go away. Eating local and seasonal seems like a reasonable cause to throw money at. That cilantro up there also came from them.Spicy Melon Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

OK, so let’s get to the cocktail.

There are a few components to this that are make ahead. You know how I love my projects! It’s probably why I can’t make it out to the farmer’s market. The first is that the melon gets steeped in gin for a few days; it’s so worth it. Next, cilantro gets chopped up and mixed into a simple syrup. Then everything is combined with some Dolin Blanc, lime juice and cayenne pepper. This whole concoction was really based on the fruit cart vendors I see all over Los Angeles. Another food item I used to impulsively buy until I learned just how simple it was to make at home.

For the Melon-Infused Gin:

1 cup London Dry gin, such as Ford’s
1 cup chopped skinned and seeded cantaloupe (about 1/2 melon)

Combine gin and cantaloupe in an airtight container; cantaloupe should be completely covered with gin. Let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Strain into a clean bottle. Refrigerate up to 6 months.

For the Cilantro Simple Syrup:

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup finely minced cilantro leaves and stems

Combine water with sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Add cilantro and let stand for 1 hour. Strain out cilantro. Cool before using. Simple syrup will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

For the Cocktail:

2 ounces Melon-Infused Gin
3/4 ounce Cilantro Simple Syrup
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice from 1 lime
1/2 ounce Dolin Blanc vermouth
Pinch cayenne pepper, plus more for garnish
Melon slice, for garnish

Combine melon-infused gin, cilantro simple syrup, lime, vermouth, and pinch cayenne pepper in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake until well chilled, about 25 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a melon slice sprinkled with additional cayenne and serve immediately.

A strong juniper palate, along with the herbal and citrus hints found in a London Dry gin style work really well to balance the sweetness of a melon like cantaloupe. Adding the element of grassy cilantro into the mix here gives the whole drink a touch more savoriness. A generous squeeze of lime juice and a big pinch of cayenne transforms the base into a juicy, fruity, spicy cocktail.

A Diwali Cocktail

A Diwali Cocktail // stirandstrain.comAll of you guys are about to get schooled in a holiday I’m pretty sure you had no idea existed. If you are Indian and are reading this, then, well, you know what holiday this is. If you’re not from Indian descent, I’m guessing you are trying to figure out how to pronounce that word. Diwali. The “W” is like a “V”, pretty easy. In case you are wondering, I am not of Indian descent. My heritage crosses most of Europe, stopping way up North with the Nordic culture, and then randomly zig-zags through the continent. My family even has some French Canadian and a probably unlikely history with the Native American community. That being an unconfirmed princess from some tribe that I think is just made up several generations ago.

So why India’s most major of holidays? I married into it. From first glance you would have no idea my husband was part Indian. The other half is Polish, and after living in Los Angeles for many years before meeting him, I thought he was Mexican when we first met. No offense to Mexican and South American cultures, I was very buzzed at that first meeting. But since being an active part in his Mother’s culture for almost 7 years now, I’ve started to take on some of these other holidays. Also, at his cousin’s request, relocating back to work in India this year, I owe the cousin and her husband a housewarming drink just in time for this holiday.

If you have been reading this blog for some time, you might recall the not-so-pleasant experience I had visiting that continent last year. However, you would note that an awesome drink DID spring up from that experience, and most notably, that country’s love of Gin. India does a decent Gin and Tonic folks.A Diwali Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

So for this year, on the festival of lights, I decided to tweak a recipe I encountered in the Washington Post on Indian beverages. The ingredients might seem a bit out there, but if you’re interested in new flavors, this would be a great place to start. The flavors of India are perfect for many cocktail creations, as they encompass sweet, salty and savory all at once and taste a lot more complex than cocktails you might be familiar with.

Here’s a warning for this drink, not to scare you off, but one ingredient in here, the black salt, might be a bit too much for some of you out there. When you open your container, you will get hit with a great amount of sulphur. That is a flavor component that this adds. Smelly, smelly sulphur. However, if you eat Indian food, you will find this subtly in the background in many dishes, so you might have already tried it before. Here though, if you are terrified of ruining a decent cocktail, or just simply cannot get your hands on it, leave it out. I won’t tell.A Diwali Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Also, the article suggests adding herbs and whole black peppercorns to your ice cubes the day before. This is optional and mainly a decorative element. When the ice cube starts to melt in the drink, be mindful that the peppercorns may be now floating in your beverage and you might unknowingly almost swallow one. I might have just done that. Twice.

Diwali Cocktail

Adapted from the Washington Post

Yields about 4 drinks

For paste base:
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons amchoor powder
1 teaspoons Indian Black Salt (make sure it is Indian and NOT anything else. No one else will have the same sulphur quality)
pinch kosher salt
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup water

For each serving:
3 to 4 oz. Q Ginger
1-1/2 oz. Old Bombay London Dry Gin

Garnish:
marigolds
lime wedges

  1. In a large mortar dish, add all paste ingredients except water and grind down until a paste forms. Add water and stir to combine. Consistency will be watery.
  2. In a double rocks glass or medium sized snifter, add a tablespoon and a half to the bottom of the glass. Add ice. Pour over gin, Q Ginger and squeeze 2 lime wedges in each glass. Top with marigolds.

At first sip this cocktail is almost shocking. So many flavors are going on in this drink and as you sip they meld together a bit and settle down. Cumin pepper, and the black salt dominate with their earthiness while the ginger, amchoor (which is dried mango powder by the way) and lime have a lovely sharp sweetness. If you would like more sweetness here, you can up the simple syrup or Q Ginger. The mint and cilantro give off some floral aromas as well. And the gin, well, it is sitting way at the back of the class here. It’s in there, but clearly being muscled out by the other spices. The marigolds are edible if you would like to try them although here their presence is symbolic of celebration in Indian culture. For the Hindi ceremony part of our wedding these little guys were EVERYWHERE.

Happy Diwali. If you do venture to make this, please let me know what you think!A Diwali Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

The Tres Palmas

Recently we spent a relaxing couple of days out in the wonderfully hot Palm Springs, it was for my birthday, but really, everyone needed some time to veg out. My husband is not a big fan of heat, sun, or swimming pools so he volunteered to be the cook and cocktail maker and give me a break (in the cocktail area, he’s still cook around the house). This meant he could stay indoors in air conditioning and not let on how much he was sampling the drinks; not like I can judge.

So there was lots of nachos and guacamole and the like, requiring lots of cilantro and hot pepper scraps to end up laying about doing nothing. In a moment of brilliance the husband tosses some of these scraps into a tumbler of gin and grapefruit juice topped with champagne and hands it to me upon request for a drink to have on my raft. Now, he tried to convince me that he’s had similar drinks before, but I hadn’t. So as far as I was concerned this was a groundbreaking flavor combination, possibly due to the extreme heat and sun exposure and the several morning cocktails we’d already had (read: vacation drinking).

Since we’ve been back I’ve been wanting to make this again, only I had some ideas to tweak it a bit. I finally got around to doing it and with a couple modifications, I was able to encapsulate exactly what I thought the drink should be.

First thing I did was try it with the champagne, and then again without. In the end the float of champagne wasn’t helping anyone so I tossed that out of the recipe. Second, I added some lime in for balance. Then, I decided it needed salt. I have no idea where this desire to constantly dump salt on everything is coming from. I seriously should just carry around a salt lick so I stop ruining perfectly good meals. However, I had some fancy smoked salt flakes from Maldon that did the trick.

Tres Palmas was the name of the house we stayed at (it belonged to Jack Lalanne at some point in his life); I thought it a fitting name for the drink.

2 oz Gin (Beefeater was used here)
3 oz Grapefruit Juice (we had fresh squeezed in a bottle when we were on the trip so I used the same here. Feel free to sub in your own freshly squeezed by hand)
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
4 Jalapeno rings
1/2 lime wedge

Garnish:
slice of lime
Maldon smoked salt flakes

Start with the salt rim. Use your lime garnish to coat a quarter section of the glass. Roll the outside edge in the salt, pressing hard to crack the larger flakes. Set aside. In a mixing glass, combine all other ingredients and shake vigorously with your metal tumbler (so rare I use the Boston Shaker on here). Pour unstrained into the rocks glass. Finish with the lime wedge garnish.

The drink has a nice balance of citrus that compliments the gin. However the cilantro leaves add unexpected flavor, in a good way, and the heat of the jalapenos gives it great punch. I love the nice bits of cilantro and jalapeno floating around in the drink. They’re awesome little flavor bites. And the smoked salt is just another unexpected layer to the drink that imparts a subtle smokiness, that, in all honesty, reminds me of a lovely salsa.

Note: Jalapenos can vary greatly in hotness and you should really decide how spicy you want to make this. One recipe I made I left the seeds in, and though it was VERY spicy (the way I like it), it was obnoxious to drink having all these small seeds. I’d suggest that if you want heat, leave a few of the seeds in. If you want less heat, scrape the seeds out altogether. No use making something you can’t drink.