KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 — The days are getting hotter even though we still get caught in some terrific thunderstorms in the evenings. Living in a tropical climate, one gets used to the idea of “summer all year round” though admittedly some months are cooler than others.
The ultimate thirst-quencher for such weather is a cool glass of lemonade, of course. When I was younger, there was a particular excitement in sneaking sips of shandy, a concoction of half beer and half carbonated lemonade. Kids weren’t allowed to drink real beer but a few sips of shandy were considered alright.
(Childhood alcohol consumption levels aside, I’m pretty much a practising teetotaller these days so my parents were probably very sneaky in their pseudo-lenience as some form of early reverse psychology.)
Later, when I was studying in Munich, I discovered a Bavarian form of shandy called a Radler (literally “cyclist” in German). It had basically the same beer-to-lemonade ratio as a commercial shandy. Its elevation to premier summer beverage status is largely thanks to the quality of Bavarian brews (considered some of the best in the world) and the fact the drink was mixed fresh in outdoor biergartens (beer gardens).
Still, it was mostly artificially-flavoured lemonade or lemon soda being used, whether it was a shandy or a Radler. I hadn’t discovered real, freshly-made lemonade yet. It was on a visit to my Italian friend’s family home in Trento in northern Italy, that I tasted the real deal that his mamma made from scratch.
What a revelation.
Since that fateful glass, my favourite version of homemade lemonade consists of a healthy trinity of natural ingredients – lemon, ginger and mint. Lemon and ginger are both great at removing toxins from our bodies. Lemon is also an excellent source of vitamin C while ginger has anti-inflammatory properties. Mint is a natural stimulant; its refreshing fragrance can help alleviate depression and fatigue. All three aid digestion.
So, while my boozy (or semi-boozy) days are over, I’ve learned a thing or two about how about to keep cool on the fieriest of “summer” days. When life gives you lemons, go get some fresh ginger and mint, and make some thirst-quenching lemonade.
Homemade lemonade with mint and ginger
Hot weather can make anyone sluggish and the thought of consuming three square meals nightmarish. A zesty and spicy non-alcoholic aperitif in the form of this mint-and-ginger lemonade can revive your waning appetite.
You may adjust the amounts of the ingredients according to your personal preference – more ginger if you like it spicy; extra mint for that refreshing kick; less sugar if you don’t have a sweet tooth. Sometimes I like making sugarless lemonade and up the quantity of lemon juice to make it really tart. That will wake anyone up even on the warmest tropical afternoons!
An option is to replace the sugar with honey; flavoured honey such as clover or lavender will add an extra dimension to this icy beverage. The mint-and-ginger syrup can keep up to a week in the refrigerator so you can make lemonade at your convenience. Figure out your favourite ratio of lemon-ginger-mint-sugar, and then make a large batch so everyone can enjoy some too.
2 medium-sized pieces of fresh ginger (more if you like it very spicy), crushed
A big handful of mint, leaves only
Juice of 4-5 freshly squeezed lemons
1 litre sparkling water, chilled
Ice cubes, enough to serve with
Fill a pot with the water; make sure there is at least an inch between the surface and the rim of the pot to prevent spillage. Add the sugar, ginger and mint leaves. Bring water to a boil. Simmer for five minutes, then cover and remove from heat. Let the mixture steep for 15 minutes or until it has cooled completely.
Discard the ginger and mint leaves. Strain the mixture into a container if you want to use it later or directly into a pitcher if you’re preparing the lemonade immediately. This is your base mint-and-ginger syrup.
To finish, add the sparkling water and lemon juice to the mint-and-ginger syrup. Top with ice cubes before pouring into glasses. Garnish with extra mint leaves and lemon slices, if desired.
Alternatively, for a quick-and-easy “cheat” version, all you have to do is crush the lemon juice, ginger, mint leaves and sugar in a large pitcher. Omit the water; the sugar will dissolve in the lemon juice. Add sparkling water (1.5 litres this time since the still water is omitted in this version) and stir. Finally top with ice cubes and garnish as with previous method.
Another option is to mix the finished lemonade with an equal amount of beer to make your own Radler. Be careful to hold the glass at a 45° angle while pouring the beer unless you don’t mind a lot of foam. I recommend a good Weißbier (Bavarian wheat beer) such as Paulaner.
Yield: Enough for six glasses.