One thing I look forward to every spring is my own fresh herbs. I can’t wait to get my mint planted, my rosemary, thyme, basil and the rest. But by the time September rolls around, I start to wonder what I can do with all of these big healthy plants. If you’re like me, you have been pinching off the flowers on your basil plants all summer long. Just as soon as I see it start to grow those odd little flower tips, I pull them off and let the plant branch out. The leaves just keep doubling, and new tips want to flower again—so again, I pinch it off. This goes on all summer, building an incredibly full basil plant with more leaves than I can use. So, now that the summer is ending, what am I going to do with all of this basil?
Throw A Cocktail Party
Last year, an elegant bar called Le Lion – Bar de Paris, in Hamburg, Germany started serving a drink called the Gin Basil Smash. Now, I know what you might be thinking: “oh no, it’s a gin drink.” So maybe you are not a gin drinker, but perhaps you are at least a vodka drinker. Do I still have you? Good. Now, did you know that gin starts its life as vodka? It’s true. And you do like infused vodka, right? So, here’s the thing about gin. By law, gin has to be flavored with at least juniper berries, but most gins also include other herbal ingredients. Some even have cucumber and rose petals! The point is that if you object to juniper, you may need to try a good gin in a mixed drink. That’s because the infused elements of gin help to elevate the other flavors in a mix, making a drink so incredible that you don’t even realize that it’s gin.
Case in point: the Gin Basil Smash. This has to be one of my favorite summer refreshers. It’s a smash drink because of the style in which it is made. The fruit and herbs are literally smashed together in order to extract the flavor. Each drink absolutely requires a large bunch of fresh basil. We are talking a good 10 leaves or more. In addition, you’ll need to make simple syrup (combine equal parts water and sugar). Then, go get yourself some lemons and try this!
Gin Basil Smash
One bunch of fresh basil, save one leaf for garnish
1/2 of a lemon
2/3 ounce of simple syrup (sweeten to taste)
3 ounces of gin
Stuff a bunch of basil into a shaker followed by a half of a lemon cut into four pieces. Add the simple syrup and muddle the lemon and the basil, smashing the ingredients and squeezing all of the juice from the the lemon. Taste the mixture off the back of your hand to ensure the proper balance of sweet to sour and adjust as necessary. Add the gin and lots of ice. Shake vigorously until very cold. Double-strain into a rocks glass filled with ice, squeezing every bit of liquid through a fine mesh strainer with bar spoon. Give the glass a stir and add more ice if necessary. Garnish with a basil leaf.
It looks more complicated written down than it actually is. There are two things that can prevent this from becoming your favorite summer drink. First, tasting the sweet and sour mix actually is an important step. So much so that you might want to pre-squeeze the lemon juice from the lemon half and measure it. Then, add slightly less than that measurement of simple syrup. That’s basically a homemade sour (and don’t you dare use a store-bought sour mix for this!). if you pre-measure the juice, toss the rind of the lemon into the mixer so that the muddling extracts some of the oils from the lemon peel. If you don’t have a muddler don’t let it ruin your summer. You should get one, but in the mean time, just use the flat end of a wooden spoon handle, or anything else you can jam in there.
The second tip I have for this drink is to add plenty of ice and really shake the hell out of it. What’s happening is you are super-chilling the drink, but the ice is also pulverizing the basil and extracting a beautiful emerald green color. Double-straining this one through a fine mesh strainer is smart because it will remove those tiny bits of basil.
Dive right in and make another. Before long, your basil garden will be nicely pruned or ready for the coming frost. Next year you will consider planting twice as much and if you can find it, you might even try red basil. If you thought this drink was beautiful green, wait until you see a Gin Red Basil Smash!