Lazy Day Beverages: Blueberry-Lavender Limeade and Chai
by Victoria Challancin
Like many people, I'm not good at waiting. And yesterday was a waiting day. My husband was returning from a 3-week trip to visit our son in California, and I was home in Mexico, twiddling my thumbs and playing with the dogs. So with time on my hands, I did what I do best: cook.
I've been seeing so many beautiful beverages lately online that I felt inspired to explore a couple of possibilites that I have been thinking about for a while: a Blueberry-Lavender Simple Syrup and a Chai Concentrate. I knew I had some blueberries that were a tad past their prime, and face it, my cupboard is always replete with spices. These ear-marked recipes would be a cinch to make. And I am so glad I did as each was delicious.
The Blueberry-Lavender Simple Syrup, which I used to make a delicious limeade, came from one of my favorite sites: The Kitchn. Whereas the folks at the Kitchn chose to make it into a Blueberry-Lavender Vodka Spritzer, I simple made it into a limeade. The syrup is rich in flavor and gorgeous in color--perfect for pancakes or dessert crepes. I think you could even riff on the idea of a French kir by adding a splash to chilled white wine. Or make a refreshing soda using fizzy mineral water. Of course, you could also change the type of berries as any would work. Lots of possibilities.
Cook's Notes: To make the limeade, I simply squeezed half a lime and added water and the simple syrup to taste. Nothing fancy. I had limes, not lemons, which are often difficult to find here in San Miguel. I also added a sprig of lavender leaves as well as the fresh lavender flowers to give it a bit more lavender zip. I also served it with a slightly bruised lavender sprig floating atop the ice, which added that gentle whiff of lavender scent as I sipped. And waited.
Recipe: Blueberry-Lavender Simple Syrup
(Recipe from The Kitchn)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup blueberries
4 lavender sprigs (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried food-grade lavender buds)
Combine water, sugar, and blueberries in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to a low simmer and add the lavender. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Strain pressing the blueberries to get all of their juices.
Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.
Ingredients for Blueberry-Lavender Simple Syrup
I first learned to love chai at train stations in India over 35 years ago. When a train pulls into a station in India, a chai wallah (a seller of tea) always appears bearing a tray of steaming, welcoming, beckoning milky, spicy tea--perfect for a weary traveller in need of a pick-me-up. Often you have just enough time to down your drink before the whistle blows and the chai wallah hurries along collecting the used glasses and rupees through the lowered windows of the train. With the experience of travelling around India in every mode of transportation possible, I later discovered that this delicious drink was available everywhere--at bus depots, on the street, in small shops and stalls...virtually everywhere. Like any good craftsman, the makers of chai masala, or spiced tea, has his own special blend of spices. Some include cardamom, others add a bit of fresh ginger, and still others add saffron. Each has a unique blend of which he is justifiedly proud. Years later, after staying with Kenyan friends in Nairobi and enjoying my friend Mariam's chai each morning, along with her homemade chapatis...I was hooked forever. I bought bottles of chai masala, or the dry spice blend used to flavor the milky tea, on each trip. Eventually, they ran out and I had to learn to make it for myself. That was long before chai hit the rest of the mainstream world...
What is chai? Simply put, chai is simply the word for "tea" in many cultures (also cha). Although it is pronounced like "pie" as in Apple Pie, the vendors in India sing it out in a two-syllable sing-song lilt: Chai--eee, chai--ee. When on the road, you learn to listen for that welcome chant.
In today's modern world, Starbuck's and other beverage chains have made chai concentrate popular. I have long wanted to make it myself to have as a ready base for a hot or cold drink. Having all the spices on hand makes it easy. This is my version, made to my specifications. Of course, you can change the amounts of any spice or omit ones you don't like, according to your own taste.
Cook's Notes: I added vanilla and honey because I like the taste. These are completely optional. If using vanilla, you could scrape the seeds of a vanilla bean into the mixture as it cooks. If using vanilla extract, add it at the end of the cooking time. I heated some of the concentrate with hot milk this morning for breakfast. And now, as I write this post, I am sipping on a cold chai with almond milk as a base. As with the blueberry-lavender syrup, this recipe has lots of possibilities. Just use your imagination. Soy milk, nut milks, regular milk--or even just in water. Hot or cold.
Some of the spices I used for the Chai Concentrate
Lightly crushing cardamom pods in a mortar
Recipe: Chai Concentrate
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)
5 cups water
10 teabags of black or green tea (I used English Breakfast Tea)
1 large cinnamon stick
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 inches fresh ginger, cut into slices
Zest of half an orange, in strips or grated
8 cardamom pods
3 star anise
10 allspice berries
10 black peppercorns
A generous grinding of fresh nutmeg (a scant 1/2-teaspoon)
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
A stewing pot of spice yumminess
Place all of the ingredients except for the honey and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil; lower heat, cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add honey and vanilla. Allow to cool. Strain and store in the refrigerator in a glass jar.
Chai Concentrate and Blueberry-Lavender Simple Syrup--in an olive jar and jam jar
Chai with Almond Milk
As I work at my computer
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
Recipes, like life, are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos. Thanks!