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Whether you're picnicking in the sun at the beach or relaxing on your patio on a hot summer night, cold fruity beverages are a most welcome treat. Such a refresher - a delicious mint-lime cooler - was served by my friend Susan Holtz at a recent Friday night dinner. It made me reflect on how delightful a homemade drink can be.
Susan's cooler was a lime juice and fresh mint variation of lemonade. When I'm making low-calorie lemonade, I substitute calorie-free sweetener for most of the sugar and I add a few strips of peeled lemon zest to my pitcher for extra flavor. Some chefs flavor lemonade with rosewater or even with cooked dried figs. A related Moroccan citrus beverage presented by Fortunee Hazan-Arma in her book on Moroccan- Jewish cooking, Saveurs de Mon Enfance - La Cuisine Juive du Maroc, makes maximum use of the peel's flavor; it calls for grinding whole oranges and lemons, including their skin and pulp, adding water, straining the mixture an hour later and stirring in sugar.
Susan, who is a cooking teacher at a Los Angeles chef-training program, finished her lime cooler with sparkling water. She pointed out that her drink can be turned into a Cuban cocktail called a mojito with the addition of rum.
The mojito is one of many spirited fruit-juice refreshers. Another favorite of mine is the Spanish sangria, made with sweetened red wine and sliced fruit, which Greg Dempsey, author of The Perfect Cocktail, characterizes as a kind of punch. He flavors his version of this party-perfect beverage with rum, orange juice and pineapple juice, and finishes it with ginger ale.
Some serve sangria for brunch, but I prefer to start the day with a smoothie, which many consider the summertime breakfast beverage of choice. Satisfying and often rich enough to be a dessert drink, smoothies are made by blending fruit with fruit juice and often a creamy addition such as milk, yogurt, coconut milk, soy milk or rice milk. In the Stonyfield Farm Yogurt Cookbook, Meg Cadoux Hirshberg calls her smoothies "creamy yogurt versions of traditional blender milkshakes" that are filling and hearty, but light.
Hirshberg notes that just about any combination of yogurt and fruit makes a delectable treat that "can lure your children away from less healthful sweets." She advises freezing peeled overripe bananas "to throw into smoothies for an instant chilldown." Her peach smoothie is flavored with fresh mint, vanilla yogurt and fresh orange juice, and her blueberry-banana smoothie is made with lemon yogurt, grape juice and cinnamon. Sometimes she sneaks in wheat germ to add its healthful properties to the drink. Others add ground nuts or peanut or almond butter for their flavor and nutrients.
Yamuna Devi, author of The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, notes that the popular drink called lassi is the Indian equivalent of a smoothie. In addition to the familiar mango lassi made with yogurt and sugar, she uses more exotic flavors. Her papaya lassi has fresh ginger, apple juice and yogurt, her banana lassi is spiced with cardamom and nutmeg, and her lemon lassi is sweetened with white grape juice and garnished with ground pistachios. She makes pineapple punch with orange and apple juices, coconut milk and ground cardamom; and banana punch with yogurt, minced dates and lime and orange juices.
At the juice stand in my favorite Mexican market I enjoy licuados, which are similar to Indian lassis but are made with milk rather than yogurt. Guava, papaya and banana are popular flavors, but any fruit can be used.
The beauty of these coolers and smoothies is that they are virtually foolproof. You simply flavor them to your taste. If your drink comes out too concentrated, add water; if the balance of sweet and tart flavors needs adjusting, add sugar or another sweetener or lemon juice.
FRUIT AND RED WINE PUNCH
For this punch, which resembles sangria, the fruit is macerated in the wine so they flavor each other. This makes a refreshing dessert beverage after a rich dinner. You can add tangerines or diced mango if you like. Be sure to use a colorful combination of fruit.
Makes 4 servings
Juice of 4 oranges
4 11â„2 cups dry red wine
4 1â„4 cup water or apple juice
4 2 Tbsp. sugar, or more to taste
4 2 Tbsp. honey or additional sugar
4 2 or 3 ripe peaches, peeled, or nectarines
4 1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced,
other berries, or finely diced melon
4 A few sprigs mint
Mix orange juice with wine, water, sugar and honey until sugar dissolves.
Slice peaches and add to wine mixture. Add strawberries or melon. Taste, and add more sugar if needed.
Chill for 1 to 2 hours.
Serve cold in glasses, with long-handled spoons for the fruit. Garnish with mint sprigs. Serve cold.
Even when made with skim milk and fat-free yogurt, this drink is luscious, thanks to the pureed banana.
You can make it with frozen berries if you don't have fresh ones. If you have a mango, you can substitute mango slices for the peaches. I have also made variations with diced melon and very ripe pears.
Makes 4 servings
4 1 medium-size ripe banana, sliced
(about 1 cup)
4 1 cup sliced peeled peaches or
nectarines, or 1â„2 cup sliced peaches and
1â„2 cup sliced strawberries
4 1 cup plain, vanilla or lemon yogurt
4 1 cup milk or additional yogurt
4 2 Tbsp. honey, or more to taste
4 3â„4 cup crushed ice, cold water or orange
In a blender, combine banana, peaches, yogurt and milk. Blend until smooth. Add honey and crushed ice.
Blend briefly until frothy. Pour into glasses and serve.
LIME OR LEMON COOLER WITH MINT
This is the cooler made by my friend Susan, based on a recipe from California chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. The original calls for sparkling water but you can use still water. Make it with the juice of fresh-squeezed limes during their short season; during the rest of the year, you can make it with lemon juice.
Makes 4 servings
4 1 cup freshly squeezed lime or lemon
4 1 cup mint leaves
4 2â„3 cup sugar, or to taste
4 About 11â„2 cups cold water, or enough to
4 Lime or lemon slices (for garnish)
4 Mint sprigs (for garnish)
In a blender process lime juice with mint leaves and sugar until mint is chopped. Put ice cubes in 4 tall glasses and divide the lime juice mixture among them. Fill glasses with cold water. Serve the cooler garnished with lime slices and mint sprigs.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.