Saffron-cardamom Lemonade

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Non-Alcoholic / Vodka

Phew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  As it turns out, recovering from surgery is harder than it looks.  Crutches, too.  Luckily, it’s given me a chance to reset a bit, including taking a break from imbibing much at all (after all, alcohol and crutches don’t mix well).  I thought, for my (re) debut post, then, I’d give you something that’s equally delicious with or without the booze, and which oozes with the mellow brightness of spring sun.

I first made this lemonade to bottle and take on a camping trip last year.  I multiplied the original recipe, added vodka, and let it sit overnight.  After we’d arrived at the campsite and everyone had set up their tents, the light was just mellowing into dusk and we sat, tired from the drive and setting up camp, soaking in that moment when your body fully realizes that you’re in the wilderness, no longer subject to the rigid schedules and demands of daily life.

I poured the lemonade and everyone took their first sips.  Eyes started brightening – “man, this stuff is good!” and we relaxed further as the mellow and fragrant mixture of saffron, cardamom, and lemons further transported us away from the city (I’m sure the vodka didn’t hurt, either).  It was the perfect drink to transition us from a mindset of doing to a mindset of non-doing.

The original recipe for this drink doesn’t include any alcohol, so it’s perfect to share with a mixed group of drinkers and non-drinkers.  Even if you add the vodka, it’s still a pretty mellow drink, perfect for when you want a little something but don’t want to knock yourself on the floor (for that, try this or this).  A word of warning though – if you add the vodka the night before and let it mellow, like I did before the camping trip, the resulting drink tastes absolutely nothing like alcohol, which is either fabulous or terrible, depending on how much of it you consequently end up consuming.

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Saffron and Cardamom Lemonade Concentrate (adapted from Food 52)

1.5 cups sugar

1 cup water

1 cup lemon juice

6-8 threads saffron

1.5 tsp ground cardamom (or, if you’re like me and don’t have it on hand, crushed seeds or pods will do too)

Combine sugar and water in a pan and simmer until the sugar is all dissolved.  Pull off the heat and add the saffron and cardamom.  Let cool completely, then strain out the saffron and/or crushed cardamom (not necessary if you’re using ground cardamom).

Add the lemon juice to the simple syrup mixture.  This is important:  Taste at this point.  You want to make sure it’s tart enough to balance the sugar.  If it isn’t pucker-y, add more lemon juice.   This is a concentrate, so it should be pretty intense.

To make a cocktail, muddle a few mint leaves with a little pinch of salt in the bottom of a glass.  Add 1.5 oz vodka and 1.5 oz of the lemonade concentrate.  Fill the glass with ice, then top with a little bit of water or soda water (soda water is my preference).  I personally like this a little strong, so I only do a few splashes of water.  Garnish with a little fresh mint.  For the nonalcoholic version, simply omit the vodka.

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