Crouched in the garden last Saturday, I had an epiphany: “I need a drink.” It was around cocktail hour, as it always is somewhere in the world, the air was hot as Hades, I had mosquito bites in places I don’t even have places, and makeup melting off my previously dolled-up face. (Why do I even bother?) This girl needed out of the sun, into the shade and a drink down the gullet, stat.
What this girl also needed was to keep weeding the wild, unruly garden, which was beginning to resemble something along the lines of Angkor Wat. Stumbling out of the tomatoes, I precariously pirouetted over the colossal basil plants, kept my footing and chasséd my way between the basil and arugula rows without tromping on our bounty. Not nearly as graceful as it sounds, folks, let me tell you. Upon my whirl over the basil, I noticed how bushy it was getting, and decided then and there that it was going to be put to use in my drink.
Now, using a savory herb in a cocktail is a delicate affair; you don’t want it to overpower the drink, and you don’t want it to add a strangely pungent flavor to an otherwise delightfully sweet beverage. This is where basil syrup comes in… OK fine, this is where Googling basil syrup comes in.
I came across a slew of recipes during my search, most involving too much sugar or too much of my precious time. What I eventually found was something a little more manageable: Lemon Basil Gimlets from Epicurious.com. Two things drew me to the recipe: 1) the addition of lemon and 2) the substitution of vodka instead of gin. Well, let’s make that three things: 3) did I mention the cup of vodka?
I got right to work on the lemon basil syrup. I packed about four cups of basil – tender stems and all – into a measuring cup, and peeled a couple of lemons. Into a pot they went with a little water and sugar, and the whole thing was brought to a gentle simmer. While the syrup preparation slowed my drink making process to a virtual standstill (no worries, y’all – two words: Bota Box), I knew by the aroma wafting through the kitchen that I was in for a real treat.
After the syrup was done steeping, it sat in the fridge for about an hour to cool; this gave me a little time to answer the burning question, who the heck is Gimlet? Was he Hamlet’s boozehound brother, sauntering around Elsinore Castle with a goblet of basil and gin, lamenting about his Debbie-Downer brother and jerkhead uncle? Did he come up with timeless quotes like, “To swill, or not to swill: that is the – hey man, can you give me a ride to the 7-11? I’m out of Camel Lights.” Oh, a gimlet is a tool that drills holes, you say? Boring. I’m sticking with the Hamlet idea.
Once the syrup was cooled, the drink came together in the blink of an eye. I combined some of the syrup with vodka and lemon juice, and gave it a good shake with some ice in our handy drink shaker. The results were frothy and cold, and tasted like a refreshing nip of summer: sweet and herby. I sat out on the back porch and enjoyed my cocktail as the sun was beginning to set, the overgrown weed patch that is taking over my garden still staring me in the face. No worries, y’all. There’s always tomorrow.
As a final word, I want to make a toast to all of you, dear readers, for allowing me to entertain you through 100 Flyer Foodie columns. Were in the triple digits now, y’all. Let’s take it higher.
To swilling! To 100! Enjoy!
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Lemon Basil Gimlets
Ingredients:1 c. lemon basil syrup
1 c. vodka
2/3 c. fresh lemon juice
ice cubes, lemon zest & basil sprigs for garnish
For the Syrup:
4 c. packed fresh basil sprigs
4 c. water
2 c. sugar
10 (4″x1″) lemon zest strips
To make the syrup, bring the basil sprigs, water, sugar and lemon zest strips to a boil in a medium pot. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring often until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and allow it to stand at room temperature for an hour. Strain the syrup through a mesh sieve into a bowl, and then transfer the syrup to an airtight container and chill until cold, about an hour. Discard the remaining solids.
To make a batch of gimlets, combine the syrup, vodka and lemon juice in a large shaker with about a cup of ice, and shake until frothy. Serve over ice with a garnish of lemon zest or basil sprigs.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her Flyer Foodie author page. For more cooking, recipes, and other food-related inspiration, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.