Lemonade…with a Twist

June 28, 2011

by Ann Waterman

When I think of basil, it’s usually in the context of savory dishes — caprese salad, pesto, spaghetti sauce — but did you know that basil is part of the mint family and can be used in place of mint in a slew of things, opening up a whole new world of flavors? Mint and lemon are a classic flavor pairing, but replace mint with basil, add some sugar and water, and you’ve got yourself some basil lemonade! Trust me, this stuff is good. The basil lends a pleasant herbaceous undertone that gives a unique twist to this summertime favorite. Let me show you how to make it.

First, you’ll need to make a basil lemon syrup (adapted from Gourmet, July 2007 via Epicurious.com)  — the base upon which the lemonade is made (and another fun drink that I’ll tell you about in a bit).  It’s basically a simple syrup infused with basil. You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • zest from 2 lemons

Put all ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat mixture while stirring until all the sugar has dissolved (you shouldn’t feel any sugar at the bottom of the pan with the spoon). Remove the syrup from heat, cover, and let it sit for one hour.

Strain mixture, pressing on solids with a spoon to extract all that basil-lemony goodness. Discard solids and chill syrup in fridge. Syrup will keep up to 5 days if you keep it chilled in an airtight container. Better yet, I like to freeze some and have a little taste of summer during those dreary winter days. This recipe uses a lot of basil, so it’s perfect if you have a bunch on hand and aren’t quite sure what to do with it.

Now that you’ve got basil lemon syrup, you can make some basil lemonade. All you need is:

  • 2 cups basil lemon syrup
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 cup ice cubes
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh lemon juice (about 4-6 lemons, depending on their size)

Mix the basil lemon syrup, cold water, and lemon juice in a pretty pitcher. Add ice cubes. Pour in glass, insert straw, sip and enjoy! And in case you’re wondering, you can substitute bottled lemon juice in place of fresh — I promise I won’t tell anyone. It won’t taste quite as good, but it’ll be refreshing and tasty nonetheless.

This lemonade also make a great hostess gift or take-along to a summer party. Put lemonade — minus the ice — in a stoppered bottle for a charming presentation.

Okay, as promised, here’s the other beverage you can make with the basil lemon syrup — basil vodka gimlets. These are wonderful to sip on a warm summer evening after a day in the sun.  A wrap-around porch and serenading cicadas are optional, but a nice touch. These are so simple to make once you have the syrup. You’ll need:

  • 1 cup basil lemon syrup
  • 3/4 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup ice cubes

Mix ingredients in pitcher. Remember these are not intended to quench your thirst. Sip slowly!

What’s your beverage of choice during these hot summer months? Anything fun or special to share?

P.S. To add to Zoe’s post yesterday, how about 101 ideas for easy summer meals?

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1 Meg B June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Yum. Summertime in a glass. That makes me happy.


Ann Waterman 2 Ann Waterman June 28, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Me, too, Meg! Nothing says summer to me like a glass of lemonade.


3 Lisa June 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

When you make it, do you always use fresh lemons? I tried this recipe once using bottled lemon juice and it didn’t come out nearly as good. It was not as lemony and tart as it should have been, and the taste of the basil was more prominent. I think next time I try it, I’ll either use real lemons or up the amount of bottled lemon juice that the recipe calls for.


Ann Waterman 4 Ann Waterman June 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I do cheat sometimes and use bottled lemon juice. It doesn’t taste quite as good, but I still really enjoy it. Maybe you could do half real and half bottled or play around with the proportions like you suggested.


5 Sara M June 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I *just* finished washing tons of basil, I have lemons, *and* I just received my paper straws in the mail yesterday from last week’s giveaway! This looks so easy, I’ll have to try it this afternoon.

Ann, I love your pitcher!


Ann Waterman 6 Ann Waterman June 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm

How perfect! Please let me know how you like it!

I love that pitcher, too! I got it for a great price years ago at Crate and Barrel. I liked it so much that I got a second one in case it broke. To date, I still have both of them in spite of many moves!


7 Sara M June 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Ann, everyone loved it! Now I’m going to have to try a basil vodka gimlet…


Ann Waterman 8 Ann Waterman June 28, 2011 at 11:46 pm

So glad to hear it! My only problem with this drink is that it goes so quickly. Sometimes I’ll cut it with a bit more water so it goes a little further.


9 Eleonora June 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm

That looks delicious! Basil and lemons are two of my favorite things ever… I’m going to plant basil and will give this a try.

By the way, have you ever swapped mint for basil in Italian dishes? The taste is still wonderful but the flavor is completely new (and delicious, although Italians would probably argue it’s no longer Italian…). Works great in Caprese and tomato sauces.


Ann Waterman 10 Ann Waterman June 28, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Since it uses so much basil, it’s definitely best if you grow your own. It could get pretty spendy if you used store bought basil.

You know, it never occurred to me to reverse it and replace basil with mint. I love caprese salad and I *do* have some mint growing. I’ll definitely be trying that!


11 Kathy June 28, 2011 at 9:15 pm

I tried one of Ann’s gimlets this weekend and it was delicious – great recipe!


Ann Waterman 12 Ann Waterman June 28, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Thanks, Kathy:)


13 Alissa June 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Both those recipes look amazing- I can’t wait to try them. And I HEART that pitcher too.


Ann Waterman 14 Ann Waterman June 28, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Those pitchers were a real find! Let me know how you like those recipes! I love comparing recipe notes.


Margaret Cabaniss 15 M.C. Cabaniss June 29, 2011 at 9:14 am

Every time I see Ann in the summer, I ask her to bring some of this stuff along. I can never get enough of it! I suppose I could try making some myself, but first I have to coax my basil into growing a little faster…


16 Sarah D June 29, 2011 at 5:31 pm

This recipe (and the basil lemon vodka gimlets you can make with the same syrup) has been my favorite drink recipe ever since Gourmet (RIP, sob) published it. I make it, or them, several times a year.


Ann Waterman 17 Ann June 29, 2011 at 11:05 pm

It was a sad, sad day when Gourmet went under!


18 Katie June 29, 2011 at 10:14 pm

This stuff is great! Thanks for sharing Ann!


Ann Waterman 19 Ann June 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Thank you, Katie!


20 Shannon July 27, 2011 at 5:26 pm

At our Farmers’ Market, there is a stand that sells mint lime-ade, shaking it up in mason jars. I think I’m going to use this recipe (with substitutions) to see if I can mimic their taste!
After I do the basil-lemon version, that is!
Thanks so much!


Ann Waterman 21 Ann Waterman July 27, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Oooo, that sounds delicious, Shannon! Let me know how it turns out. I may try that myself. My mint is getting bushy and needs a trim!


22 Shannon August 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Turned out great! It would be better with real spearmint, I think (mine is pineapple mint, which is a little more subtle).


Ann Waterman 23 Ann Waterman August 9, 2011 at 11:34 pm

So glad to hear it, Shannon! Thanks for the update!


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