Monday, June 4, 2012

When life gives you lemon verbena...

I first developed a taste for whiskey back during my AmeriCorps days, when my boyfriend Adam's grandmother taught me how to make whiskey sours with some of her favorite bourbon during a visit to her home in Kentucky. (My kind of woman, she was.) Ever since, I've been a little partial to whiskey-based cocktails. In fact, my favorite to date has been the "Mowhiskey" -- a twist on the traditional mojito using whiskey instead of rum plus some muddled fresh cherries -- which I invented a few years later in Brooklyn, during a barbecue in which my boyfriend Nick's friends polished off the rum before we got through the limes, simple syrup, and mint. (You would think all I did in relationships was sit around and drink with my partners. Not true. I cooked a lot, too.)

Well, tonight's boozy invention was born once again from necessity: I needed to figure out a use for the small branches I'd clipped from my aromatic but as yet unused lemon verbena out back.... I'd picked up a rather scrawny but enticingly lemon-scented little plant a number of weeks ago at a farmers' market, with positively NO idea how well it would flourish in one of the planter boxes out back. (I'd managed to kill off mint and rosemary -- both of which are supposed to be foolproof -- earlier this year, and so expectations were low.) It's taken off like a weed, all lush and green and happy looking, but come to think of it, I was a little worried that it would start taking over, Audrey-2-style.

What the heck does one do with lemon verbena? The most obvious use seemed to be in a cocktail, a thought no doubt inspired by the phenomenal quaffs I've enjoyed at Room 11 and Maple in recent weeks, though none of theirs used leaves from this deciduous shrub. I did a little internet research to see how some of the more creative mixologists have incorporated lemon verbena, and pretty much across the board they used gin as the base. I have no gin at the apartment. And, truthfully, I don't really care for it. Let's see... I do have some whiskey around that had been rescued from a box of miscellaneous liquor my brother had left with my parents awhile back, and a cut up lime in the fridge....

The result: a new drink. I call it... actually, you know what, I don't know what to call it. How about you name it? Here's the recipe:

Lemon Verbena Cocktail (Soon to have a Much Cooler Name)

First, make the simple syrup by combining in a small pot:
1/4 cup freshly picked lemon verbena leaves, crushed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water

Bring to a simmer and then turn off the heat and let the leaves steep for 20 minutes or so. Strain out the leaves and set aside to cool.

In a highball glass, combine:
3-4 lemon verbena leaves, muddled
3-4 ice cubes
1 shot of whiskey (or more to taste)
1 shot of lemon verbena simple syrup (or less to taste)
2 shots of seltzer or soda water
juice from 1/4 lime

Delicious. I'm sipping on one as I type (so apologies for any typos).


  1. I saw this recipe for lemon verbena blueberry pie on 101 cookbooks!!!

    (also, where can I find a lemon verbena seedling?? can you imagine a meal that involved both of these things?!)


    1. Not a bad idea. I am intrigued by her crust recipe.... Thanks for writing in to share! :)

      If you're in DC, I've seen lemon verbena seedlings at the Dupont Circle farmers' market.

  2. Oh, yes I am in D.C. In fact I work with you at Columbia Heights. Sorry, should have given my last name, although this is the internets. :) haha. I wonder if any of our vendors have it.

    Jess (L.)

    1. Oh. Ha. Yes, I know you. I haven't seen any lemon verbena at the Columbia Heights market, but it can't hurt to ask around. Meanwhile, if you just want to clip some l.v. leaves and/or make a batch of cocktails on my back patio, you have a standing invitation. :)

  3. Tonight brought a new twist on lemon verbena cocktails: muddled lemon verbena leaves, a shot of the verbena simple syrup, 2-3 ice cubes, and the rest of a wine glass filled with champagne. I think I may have to invite my friend Jeff, bearer of the champagne, over for dinner more often....


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