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Chile-spiked simple syrup gives cool drinks a kick

This time of year, I eat a jalapeno almost every day: on pizza, in tacos, topping my favorite Asian-style noodles and substituted for red pepper flakes in all-seasons pasta dishes.

But even that rate of consumption can’t keep pace with the all the jalapenos ready to pick from a single bush in my garden. Once we’re fearing frost, I’ll pull off all the chiles, roast them and freeze them for use all winter. That final push should come only after I’ve made several pints of salsa.

The problem this year is a lack of energy for making salsa. Between new work and home responsibilities and gearing up for my kids’ first day of distance learning, preservation efforts that I consider summertime standards seem too time-consuming.

Indeed, when time gets tight in the home kitchen, it’s time for something simple. And simple syrup has been just my speed this summer.

It started with rhubarb, a handful of stalks to simmer into something sweet, so simple syrup it was. When the sour cherries came on strong, after I pitted some for the freezer, I put up the rest, maraschino-style, in simple syrup. When some bargain-priced blueberries purchased by the flat started to wither, syrup for pancakes, french toast and other breakfast items was the obvious remedy.

Simple syrup to use in beverages and to jumpstart other preserves is the ticket for chiles, too. This recipe from the Los Angeles Times also incorporates lemon for a mixer that goes equally well in lemonade as it does in a margarita.

Cutting a slit in a fresh chile without splitting it open infuses the syrup with a little heat. If you want a really spicy syrup, you can split the whole chile in half or slice it.

Chile Lemon Simple Syrup

2 to 3 lemons, preferably unwaxed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 fresh serrano chile, slit

Scrub the lemons well under warm water. Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest in strips directly over a small saucepan, letting them drop into pan. Try to not peel off white pith beneath yellow layer. Squeeze 1/2 cup juice from lemons and add to zest, along with the sugar.

Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and add the chile. Let cool to room temperature.

If you’d like, strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a jar. Otherwise, simply pour solids and liquid into a jar. Use right away or refrigerate until cold. Syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes about 2/3 cup.

Sparkling Chile Lemonade

1/4 cup Chile Lemon Simple Syrup

1 cup sparkling water

1 lemon wedge (optional)

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the syrup, then top off with the sparkling water. Squeeze in juice from the lemon wedge, then drop it into glass. Stir and enjoy.

VARIATION: For hard lemonade, add 2 ounces vodka, preferably lemon, to syrup and stir well before topping off with sparkling water.

Makes 1 drink.

Chile Lemon Margarita

1 lemon wedge

Coarse sea salt

2 ounces Chile Lemon Simple Syrup

1 1/2 ounces tequila

1/2 ounce orange-flavored liqueur

Run the lemon wedge around rim of a margarita or lowball glass, then dip into the salt to coat rim.

In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine the syrup, tequila and liqueur. Shake well, then strain into prepared glass.

Makes 1 drink.

Tribune News Service