As spring breezes in, swap out the steamy winter drinks that warmed the cockles of your heart, for icy spring thirst-quenchers that cool your heels and invigorate your soul. Infuse these sips with the season's bounty of organic and local strawberries, cherries, zesty limes, sassy rhubarb, apricots and juicy mangos.
For savory palates, blend beverages with young, tender vegetables bursting with fresh flavors from arugula, baby spinach leaves and spring onions to pea shoots, Persian cucumbers, fennel bulbs and cactus pads.
And to amp up the body's systems to alleviate winter's maladies, including stiff, achy joints, congestion and indigestion, add choice herbs, spices and flower buds to create healing tonics for a good spring cleaning.
Whether concocting a sweet or savory drink, sprinkle some potent spices into the mix like golden turmeric — an anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, allergy-calming immune booster, musky cumin and mustard seeds, powerful digestive aids, coriander, also a warrior against inflammation, and zippy fresh-grated ginger, a natural remedy for all that ails you from nausea and digestive discomfort to stuffy noses and scratchy throats.
Fragrant springtime herbs will dial up mocktails and cocktails with a vibrant tang. Mint, the season's quintessential herb, one of the most popular since classical times for its culinary and medicinal attributes is a high fiber, vitamin-rich, antioxidant powerhouse that has been linked to tempering bad cholesterol (and breath), heart rate and blood pressure, easing indigestion and sunburns, while awakening the senses and perking up memory.
Toss some fresh leaves into a tall, chilled glass of limeade or iced tea, whip up a mint julep with or without the booze, a strawberry and mint spritzer or an ancient Persian sweet and sour treat called sekanjabin that blends lemon peel, ginger, mint, vinegar, honey and pureed fruits or shredded cucumber for a syrupy energizer.
Originating from Mediterranean climes, thyme was revered by the Ancient Greeks as a cure-all for everything except mending a torn tunic. Add these delicate sprigs to infuse a minty lemony essence to teas, sparkling waters, strawberry or honeydew agua frescas or vodka cocktails. Beautiful green-leafed basil, as fragrant as it is brilliantly-hued, while the most commonly grown herb in the world, is anything but common. A native of India and Asia, and member of the mint family, there are dozens of varieties, the best known being Sweet Basil, followed by Lemon and Thai.
Basil enlivens rhubarb bellinis or margaritas, strawberry or cucumber slushes, orange blossom honey limeades, mango, perfume-pulped cherimoya or leafy green smoothies, or a simple pitcher of ice water adding an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant oomph to every sip.
From leaves to flowers, the latter have blossomed this season as vibrant garnishes for tropical drinks and cocktails, or frozen in ice cubes for a pop of color and creativity. Culinary flowers, including brightly pigmented nasturtiums, aromatic fennel buds, yellow calendulas; pink, red and white roses, snapdragons, delicate pansies, and mauve lavender petals are a few favorite edibles.
To jazz up salty and savory cocktails and vegetable-based beverages use assorted Mediterranean olives in the ice cubes, spring onion tops, tiny rainbow radishes, or chopped seasonal herbs, such as parsley, chervil, lime leaves or rosemary.
•••• Recipe: Sparkling Lavender Lemonade
• Ingredients: 5 cups spring water, 2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup lavender flowers, 2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice (pink, Meyer or Eureka), 2 bottles sparkling water (750ml) , 1 sliced lemon, 6 lavender sprigs, 6 mint sprigs
• Method: Bring water and sugar to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add lavender blooms. Cover. Remove from heat. Steep 1 hour. Strain through a fine sieve into large a pitcher. Stir in lemon juice. Add sparkling water. Fill pitcher with ice. Garnish with lemon slices and sprigs of lavender and mint. Yields 10-12 servings.
Recipe courtesy of Bernard Guillas, executive chef at The Marine Room, La Jolla
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org