Friday, June 14, 2024

Mocktails: try these non-alcoholic beverages to beat the heat

It’s summertime, and the hot weather in much of Mexico calls for lots of cooling beverages. In the coastal towns especially, the temperature can easily stay close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit through the night — and the days are even hotter. 

Ice water and electrolytes are fine, but sometimes you just want something a little more festive. What’s left when you take soda, aguas frescas, smoothies and alcohol out of the mix? Why, mocktails, of course! 

Arnold Palmer cocktail
The Arnold Palmer is a classic non-alcoholic cocktail, even if the golfer himself usually drank it with a generous slug of vodka.

What takes a mocktail from, say, a mix of fruit juices, to another level is the addition of ingredients that imitate the specific taste palate of alcohol: bitter, sweet, tingly and drying. Some food experts point to oversteeped black tea — with its strong natural tannins — to mimic the slightly bitter, astringent effect of alcohol. You can also make a tea syrup: brew black tea twice as strong as normal, add an equal amount of sugar and simmer about five minutes till the sugar dissolves. 

The classic example is the Arnold Palmer, a combination of lemonade and black tea (recipe below), made famous by the golfer of the same name. Not to say he was a teetotaler — Mr. Palmer also famously spiked his namesake drink with a healthy dose of vodka. At any rate, use twice as many teabags as you regularly would and simmer the tea for about 10 minutes when using it for a mocktail.

Another way to replicate the complex flavors of alcohol in a mixed drink is to add ingredients like chilies, fresh ginger and herbs, all of which can sometimes be found in aguas frescas or fruit coolers. Sugary simple syrups, tonic or soda water and pretty garnishes can all be used to spritz up basic beverages, with an end result of refreshing, delicious cold drinks that hit the proverbial spot, especially at this time of year. 

Strawberry-Jalapeño Mocktail

  • 1 quart strawberries, hulled and cut in quarters 
  • ½ jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, cut into 4 pieces
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup fresh lemon or lime juice (10-12 lemons,15-18 limes)
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 1 quart ice

Combine strawberries, jalapeño, sugar and salt in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Let rest 30 minutes.

Remove and discard the jalapeño. Set aside 1 cup of macerated strawberries for garnish.

Transfer remaining strawberries and any exuded juices and syrup into a blender. Add lemon/lime juice. Blend on high until smooth.

Push through fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher. Discard solids.

Whisk in the reserved strawberries and cold water. Add ice.

Serve in ice-filled glasses garnished with a strawberry and a jalapeño slice.

Strawberry Jalapeno mocktail
Strawberries combined with the mild heat of jalapeño make for a sweet-spicy combination that’s irresistible.

Classic Arnold Palmer

  • 3 black tea bags, such as English Breakfast
  • 3 cups lemonade
  • Ice for serving
  • Garnish: 1 lemon, thinly sliced

In a saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat, add the tea bags and steep for 5 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags. Let the tea cool completely, about 30 minutes. Combine the tea and the lemonade in a large pitcher. Add lemon slices and refrigerate until cold or serve immediately over plenty of ice.

Makes about 5½ cups.

Long Island Iced Tea Mocktail

  • 12 black tea bags (Assam, Darjeeling, English Breakfast, even Earl Grey)
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cans (12 oz.) non-alcoholic ginger beer or soda
  • 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 4 cups ice
  • Garnish: Lemon slices, mint leaves

Brew teabags in 4 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes. Add vinegar, ginger beer and lemon juice.   

Fill pitcher with ice. Pour in tea mixture. Garnish with lemon and mint.

Cucumber-Ginger Mint Cooler

  • 1½ cups packed fresh mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt 
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 English or Persian cucumbers*, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • One (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 limes (limones), plus more as needed, for juice and zest
  • Ice cubes, for serving

* If using regular cucumbers, peel first and scrape out seeds.

In a molcajete (or a medium bowl), with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon, combine the mint leaves, sugar and salt, crushing them together just until the mint is bruised.

Pour in the hot water; stir until sugar and salt dissolve. Allow to steep 5 minutes while you prepare the cucumbers.

Combine cucumbers and ginger in blender. Zest limes over the blender, then halve them and squeeze in the juice. Pour in 1 cup of room-temperature water; purée on high until smooth.

Pour the purée through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing lightly to extract the liquid. Discard the solids, and pour the juice into a pitcher.

Pour mint syrup through the same strainer into a container, pressing to extract the liquid. Add ¼ cup strained syrup to juice. Taste and add more syrup or lime juice to taste.

Refrigerate any leftover syrup for another use. Fill glasses with ice, pour in the juice, garnish with mint and serve immediately.

Chamomile simple syrup is the secret behind this Chamomile Lime Rickey recipe. (Janet Blaser)

Chamomile Lime Rickey

  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons Chamomile Simple Syrup*, plus more to taste
  • Ice
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) seltzer or tonic water
  • Garnish: thin lime slices 

Combine lime juice and Chamomile Simple Syrup in a large glass; stir to combine. Add more lime juice or syrup to taste. Fill with ice, top off with seltzer and gently mix. Garnish with lime slices.

*Chamomile Simple Syrup

This is also great drizzled on waffles, pancakes or French toast or over vanilla ice cream. 

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 chamomile teabags

Place sugar and water in small saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, add teabags. Steep 10 minutes, then discard teabags. Cool to room temperature.

Store in fridge up to 2 weeks. Makes about 1⅓ cups.

Watermelon Cucumber Punch

  • 1¼ pounds fresh seedless watermelon cubes
  • 2 English or Persian cucumbers
  • ½ cup fresh lemon/lime juice
  • 4 Tbsp. agave or simple syrup or 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • Garnish: thinly sliced cucumber rounds 

†If using regular cucumbers, peel first and scrape out seeds.

So refreshing!

In a blender, purée watermelon until smooth. Strain and set aside 1½ cups juice. Add cucumbers to blender with 1 Tbsp. water. Purée until smooth. Strain and set aside 2 Tbsp. juice.

In a cocktail shaker, combine watermelon juice, cucumber juice and all other ingredients. Pour into ice-filled glasses and serve, garnished with cucumber rounds. Makes 4 mocktails

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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