Subtle Sips

If I were to post personal adds in search of the perfect cocktail partner, it would look something like this: To margaritas, I'm looking for a mate with balance and roughness to your sweet side, stand up for who you are and be strong. To my martini, as much as you might shake my core and stir my heart, I hate it when you're cloyingly sweet to me. You're hard enough to handle.

When it comes to cocktails, few ingredients move me in an irresistible way as dinner companions and warm weather friends- one is definitely fresh ginger. (The other is cucumber, but that warrants it's own post).

My earliest memories of the spicy-sweet punch of ginger were against the backdrop of lemongrass and peppercorns, at London's own version of the Blue Elephant Thai chain. Surely the most common experience is the pink or white pickled ginger that provides a welcome flower of refreshment between bites of spicy tuna rolls. I've eaten my fair share of candied ginger in homemade trail mix where the zest is a delicious textural and taste counterpart to dried pineapple. But perhaps the most intriguing ginger I've had has been fresh, infused in a lightly sweet, tart cocktail.
Ginger's stomach soothing properties seems a natural fit for booze (okay, the irony doesn't escape me either) but I tend to like my cocktails to be a cool, understated compliment to a more dominant dish, or else not at all. I discovered a whole menu of deliciously balanced cocktails when dining recently at Chicago's Veerasway. A modern take on Indian food, the restaurant balances traditional tastes like curries and raita with modern twists like tamarind glaze, cumin seeds in a very pure way. The beauty of Veerasway's updated yet authentic cuisine is that nothing overpowers - just like their 'mumtaz maharita', a gently spiced nod at what might be a margarita in another culture, using el jimador reposado tequila, fresh ginger, fresh lime juice and ground cumin seed. Deliciously surprising, and great through every course. I credit the ginger.

In searching for the next cocktail to toast the entry into summer, I stumbled upon Tyler Florence's recipe for a frozen ginger-lemon cocktail that might soon replace that pre-mixed margarita standby at your first cookout. Give it a try and put your own spin on ginger. I'd recommend substituting lime, or incorporating fresh herbs like mint, basil seeds or other exotic takes for a great cocktail to pair with international tapas or satay.
Now only if this Chicago weather would cooperate. Cheers!

Tyler's Icy Lemon Ginger Vodka Cocktails

(as featured in Food and Wine Magazine)

One 3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 cup fresh lemon juice

8 cups crushed ice

2 cups vodka

Create your simple syrup by combining the water and sugar in a saucepan. Simmer with fresh ginger for about 5 minutes. Puree and strain the ginger syrup, then add lemon zest and juice.

Freeze mixture overnight or at least 4 hours til firm. Chop into small pieces and divide in half. Take half of the ginger-lemon reduction, add 1 cup vodka and 4 cups ice to a blender and blend until slushy.

Each batch should pour 4 servings. Relax outside and enjoy the return of decks and patios!

(This post is dedicated to Melissa... thanks for the request for a cocktail recipe! Requests are always welcome for ingredients, dishes and drinks!)