I visited some good friends in Toronto recently, where one of them (who is a kitchen genius, really) served me a drink that rocked my world.
She had made a cola syrup - from scratch! on her stove! - and after taking my first sip a number of miraculous things occurred. (a) COLA! and (b) woah. Because after the first second, the resemblance ends. Suddenly it tastes like vanilla and lavender and cloves and .. all of those things combined. It's incredible. It kicks Coca-Cola's ass. It's like learning what coke could be, and maybe once was, before artificial flavoring and high-fructose corn syrup came and ruined the party for everyone. This drink is complex. And it is good.
Recipes like this really typify all that I love about doin' it yourself. Every recipe, every project feels like a chance to rediscover everyday objects, everyday foods that are otherwise taken for granted. Suddenly, cola goes from a somewhat trashy indulgence to a culinary revelation. (I mean really, who cooks with lavender?)
Using vanilla beans was another new one for me. I loved that I had to ask for them behind the counter at my local bulk food store - I felt like I had ascended to new culinary heights. At $5 for two they felt like a seriously expensive addition my basket at first.. until I found out that vanilla beans are a kind of rinse-and-repeat miracle item. When they are done adding their vanilla-ness your cola, you can rinse them and throw them in a jar with a cup of vodka or rum, forget about it for a month or so, and bam! You never need to use artificial vanilla flavoring again. And even better? When it starts to run low, you can top it up with more booze, and repeat the whole process. Magic.
Cola Syrup - originally adapted from Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
I doubled the recipe, because you're going to want to share this one.
Zest of 2 medium oranges
Zest of 1 large lime
Zest of 1 large lemon
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1 section of a star anise pod, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 one-and-a-half-inch piece vanilla bean, split
1/4 teaspoon citric acid (I got some in the canning section of the bulk food store)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon (packed) light brown sugar.
1. Combine 2 cups of water in a pot with zests, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, lavender, ginger, vanilla and citric acid. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
2. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves.
3. Line a sieve or colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place over the bowl. Pour the contents of the pot through the sieve. Squeeze out the cheesecloth to get all the liquid.
4. Stir the syrup and let cool.
Add to soda water to taste and enjoy.