Photo by Judith Hausman
Flavored vodkas are a given in bars these days. Most commercial vodkas bring out new flavors regularly and bartenders worth their margarita salt concoct many unique combos in-house. But an expanding locavore trend, at least in The Big City, is vegetable cocktails. You may know Hendricks cucumber gin … it’s like air-conditioning in a martini glass. But that’s just the start of it. Mixologists go much further.
Try a not-your-mother’s Bloody Mary, spiked with horseradish vodka and garnished with pickled asparagus. Order a chili-pepper margarita, made from chilies that grow right out of the Mexican garden. Splash tangy homemade celery bitters into a range of cocktails. Cubed raw beets, tarragon syrup and orange peel cocktail-up a classic flavor combination (see recipe below). Fennel and Concord grape juice blend with sherry and herbal gin spikes red pepper juice. Try this at home: corn and sage with aguardiente, tequila with carrot puree or a pickled-ramp Gibson. The infused alcohols and simple syrups are another way to save your harvest’s bounty and might also be another way to add more veggies into your diet.
While these green cocktails are arguably healthy, it’s fun to invent one or seek one out at a good bar. You’ll also experience another side of the vegetable because a fresh context underscores its contribution. For example, you may taste astringency in your beets, hints of licorice in your tarragon or sweetness in your carrot juice — flavors that you wouldn’t have known were there.
Vegetable cocktails aren’t syrupy sweet, either, like so many fruit-based cocktails and, oh, the colors! The alcohol draws out and preserves the most brilliant rubies, oranges and bright greens, making them as exciting to look at as to sip.
Recipe: Beet It!
From Assistant Sommelier William Nazar
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
- 1/2 ounce red-beet vodka
- 1/2 ounce orange-tarragon syrup
- A sparkling wine, such as Spanish cava
The Vodka: Pour 750 milliliters of 80-proof vodka over two good-size washed and chopped beets in a jar you can seal tightly. Put the infusion in a dark place, shaking it occasionally, for about one week. Then strain. The Syrup: Make a simple syrup with 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water, the peel of one orange (avoid adding the white pith just under the skin) and 10 to 15 sprigs of tarragon. Simmer and stir about 20 min. Remove from heat and let the orange and tarragon steep in the simple syrup as it cools. Then strain.
Chill the vodka and the syrup. Mix and top off with the chilled wine to taste. Serve in a champagne glass and garnish with an orange twist.
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.