Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shaken & Stirred: This Hanoi Mojito Rocks!

Because I am not professionally trained, I'm more than just slightly hesitant to call myself a cook or a chef. I'm even less inclined to call myself a bartender. Or a mixologist. But I do believe that if you have a general understanding of the way flavors interact you can create a meal out of just about anything. Same goes for a cocktail. And last evening? I came up with a winner, if I do say so myself. 

First, let me set the scene by saying that yesterday morning I was a little mopey after learning that Morrissey had cancelled last night's show at The Paramount. And if I'm really being honest I will have to admit that I was still a bit disappointed that we weren't attending Coachella this year. So despite the beautiful weather, I was feeling kinda glum. By the time Lon walked in the door carrying the haul from yesterday's farmer's market, my mind was set: I was going to spend the day dicing, slicing, simmering, chopping, blending and boiling my sadness away. 

Like many people, I find great comfort in the kitchen when I'm feeling low. I can log - and lose - hours creating new recipes and fine-tuning old ones. And, on occasion, I've been known to turn my attention away from the dinner table and focus on the cocktail table instead. My endeavors have produced, ahem, mixed results. While I like to create signature cocktails to coincide with different events, it's doubtful that you've ever heard of The Orange Lotus (made in honor of a Chinese New Year's Eve dinner a few years back;) The Gentlemen's Prerogative (created on the fly with a limited liquor cabinet at the beach one summer while trying to recall my friend Larry's creation, The Handsome Gentlemen;) or, my favorite, The Bloody Nose (a horribly-named, but tasty, raspberry-based concoction I came up with when we had friends over to watch Liddell vs Couture II.) 

Like I said, it's doubtful you've ever heard of these, unless you were there to partake of them. 

Given our grounded status for the weekend, combined with the bounty Lon brought back from the farmer's market, the afternoon looked like a perfect opportunity to experiment. I called my taste-testers and asked them to have their palates, and opinions, ready by 6 PM. I flicked on the "Work In Progress" light over The Folsom Test Kitchen and got to work. 

Of all the produce that came in through the door yesterday morning, the thing that really caught my eye was something Lon said the vendor at the market identified as Vietnamese coriander. A little research informed me that it's also called Vietnamese Cilantro, or Rau Ram. (One of my favorite salads has Rau Ram and I now feel one step closer to recreating it, but more on that in a later post.)

There was something about the light texture of the herb's leaves and its clean but slightly peppery fragrance that made me want to use it in a cocktail. It looked and smelled so refreshing. And just like that, my decision was made. I was going to create a variation of a Mojito. Since I was using a classic cocktail template, I decided to call it the Hanoi Mojito (after briefly kicking around the name Hanoi Rox, because once a music geek, always a music geek.) 

I made two versions of the Hanoi. The first had lime, the second had lemon. The lime version won out, three to one, but I thought both were good. My vote went to the lime simply because I thought its citrus flavor balanced the other flavors out the best. 

The overall verdict? The drink was so refreshing, it just seemed to scream "Spring!" But of course since I hate shouting I had to silence its exuberance by quickly emptying the glass.  

OK, without any further rambling from me, here's the recipe! Enjoy responsibly, please!

The Hanoi Mojito 
For the simple syrup....
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup chopped ram rau leaves, loosely packed
1/4 cup lemon grass, chopped, outer stalks removed first
2 TBS fresh ginger root, chopped 
For the cocktail... 
1 Liter Vodka, chilled (I used Grey Goose just because that was what was on hand)
1 bottle Pellegrino mineral water or seltzer or club soda, chilled
herb-infused simple syrup from above
1 lime, cut into quarter wedges, then cut in half again (or 1 lemon, cut similarly)
1 bunch, approximately half cup, clean ram rau leaves, coarsely chopped (leave some whole if you want to add some drama to the glass!)
Crushed ice
For the garnish
Lime wedges, inner stalk of lemon grass as a swizzle, ram rau leaves left whole

1. To make the herb-infused syrup place the sugar and water in a pot over medium heat, stir til sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Stir in the ram rau, lemon grass and ginger. Bring back to a boil and cook for approximately a minute. Turn heat down to simmer, and allow herbs to infuse the syrup for approximately twenty minutes. Turn off heat, and allow to steep for at least an hour. Taste. If the syrup doesn't taste properly infused, then bring back to a boil, and repeat. Be careful not to over boil as the syrup will turn bitter. Set aside and allow to cool.
2. In bottom of a rocks glass place coarsely chopped ram rau leaves. Put lime (or lemon) wedges on top of leaves and pour in one jigger (approximately two ounces) of the simple syrup. Using a wooden spoon, the palm end of a hand-held citrus juicer, or even the bottom of a small shot glass, mash the lime and leaves so that the oils and juice are released from both. You should have a nice pulpy mess in the bottom of the glass when you're finished.
3. Add to the glass one jigger of mineral water or soda water. Add a few pieces of crushed ice. Stir.
4. Top with one jigger of vodka. Stir well. Garnish with lime (or lemon,) a thin stalk of lemon grass as a swizzle, and a few whole leaves of the ram rau. Enjoy! 
NOTES: While I used mineral water, I think seltzer or club soda might have actually been better. I think their higher sodium content would have mixed well with the peppery nature of the ram rau and the slight sting of the ginger and lemon grass in the simple syrup. Either way, the effervescence gave a nice buoyancy to all of the ingredients. I called this a mojito because of the similarities in their means of preparation, not because of similarities in ingredients.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like an awesome drink! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

Steven said...

Thank you! It is really good and actually the simple syrup mixed with mineral water is refreshing, too. The feedback is very much appreciated, so thank you again!

Jen and Gary said...

YUM! I love this drink. So refreshing and colorful, perfect for a sunny afternoon. An asian-inspired mojito is the perfect description. I imagine it would perfect for enjoying a garden cocktail-hour with friends. Tried it today, and it's actually not too hard to make - and definitely worth the effort. Thanks for the recipe!

Steven said...

Thanks so much for the great feedback! And I'm glad you liked it! Did you try the lemon or the lime version? Just curious, thanks either way!

Ann said...

Love all the combinations, but
any tips to replace the vodka with some non-alcho drink? humm thinking about the apple cider..whats your thought?

Steven said...

Ann, Great question! If you want to enjoy the sweet-spicy-astringent-tart goodness of this drink as it you can do so by leaving out the vodka and tripling the amount of mineral water or club soda. I had a glass yesterday without the vodka but with extra pieces of lime and a lot of ice. It was so hot here in the Bay Area and this was a perfectly refreshing drink! If you substitute the cider let me know how it is! Thanks again for the feedback! Steven

Just Plain Lucky said...

As if I don't miss you enough!
You know this will be put through its paces as soon as I can get to the Asia Market. - Larry.

Steven said...

I miss you guys too! If I remember correctly you have Thai Basil and regular Basil in your garden, correct? I would consider using Thai Basil in this concoction if you can't find the ram rau. Also, I think your gorgeous wife will like the balance of flavors in this - I know she's not a fan of things too cloyingly sweet. Let me know how it turns out when you make it!

Charles G Thompson said...

Wow! Sounds thirst-quenching especially with the current heat wave we are having in L.A. Will have to make it for Robert. And you are pushing me to try some Asian ingredients I'm not familiar with.

Steven said...

Charles, it's perfect for this weather! We're having a bit of a hot spell up here, too. Thanks for the great feedback, and I'm happy to hear that you might try some of these ingredients. They're extremely versatile!

Table Talk said...

I think we will have to invite friends over this weekend to give this recipe a try...could be a new favorite!

Steven said...

I'd love to hear how the drinks turn out if you make them this weekend. If you have any questions before hand please ask! I'm happy (and honored) to help! I would definitely adjust the syrup/ sugar content to your personal taste. Thanks for the feedback and happy mixing! Steven

Ann said...

It turned out yummo for me :)
Since I don't know the 'real' taste of the drink with Vodka, I could only say replacing vodka with cider tasted perfect for MY taste buds!