We are fortunate to have a rotating fleet of food trucks that roll up to the curb at the far end of the plaza by the water fountain outside the newsroom. Stepping out of the chilly, air conditioned blasts that pour down our backs all day and into the sunshine is a must at lunchtime. People frequently preface their lunch break by saying, “I’m going outside to warm up.” Strolling down to the food trucks to stand in line only prolongs the welcome break in the warmth.
This summer, I’ve been hooked on the Thai basil limeade from the Bon Me food truck.
They have all kinds of delicious house-made drinks, like spicy ginger lemonade, but the basil limeade is my favorite to take the edge off the humidity.
Being curious, I wanted to see if I could recreate it, and decided a simple syrup must be the way to go.
I had received a bag of GMO-free Zulka pure cane sugar to try and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Zulka retains its natural color, kind of a sandy white. The darker undertones make it sparkle more than an ordinary cup of white sugar, it’s quite pretty. The taste is slightly different, too, similar to a subtle maple syrup flavoring. When I tromped around Eladio Pop’s cacao farm in the rainforest of Belize, he hacked down some sugar cane for us to suck on and this is what Zulka sugar tastes like.
Anyway, I boiled one cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water, stirring until the sugar dissolved. Then I added a cup of basil leaves, stems and all, covered, and set aside until the syrup cooled (about 45 minutes).
British food writer Nigel Slater in his new cookbook, “Notes from the Larder,” muses on the mysterious flavors of basil:
“Even now, basil seems as if it doesn’t belong here. Its notes of pepper, clove, and aniseed – and the fact that it cannot give us its soul without having first had a dose of sunshine – make it seem like a visitor. A traveler from another culture, bringing with it tales of thick green olive oil, purple olives, gnarled sun-scorched tomatoes, and meals taken outdoors.”
What better flavors and aromas to bring to the sharp, bright acidity of limes for a drink enjoyed in sunshine?
Once you have your simple syrup, mix with fresh lime juice to your taste. I like 2 tablespoons of basil simple syrup with the juice of one lime stirred into a glass, which isn’t as sweet as the Bon Me version. For a pitcher, squeeze 8 limes and stir with 1 cup of simple syrup. For a sharper taste, use tonic water. Flavor with fresh mint and slices of lemon.