We’re very fond of our herb garden. A few years ago, we built a step stand on the back deck, and this holds enough aromatic greenery to pinch for the kitchen all summer long. Having herbs so close to hand means that it’s easy to get inspiration for a food or drink recipe. Herb pots are easy to set up, don’t require any digging, and can be positioned wherever you have a sunny spot. A few years ago, in our garden-less apartment in Brooklyn, we’d sneak herb pots out onto the fire escape in defiance of the landlady. When Emily lived in an industrial loft building, the roof was always the sunniest location and where herbs thrived. The pride of our raised bed garden is always late-summer tomatoes, but there’s a hero of the herb garden that brings us delight from early summer onwards. To paraphrase T S Eliot, we can measure out our summer in basil leaves.
We grow as many varieties of basil as we have space for on the deck. The mainstay is always sweet (Italian style) basil, the type that people are most familiar with. (Both sweet basil and the separate variety Genovese basil are often loosely termed “Italian basil”, although that isn’t an official variety.) The leaves of this type tend towards roundness, especially as they grow larger. It’s a great all-purpose basil that we add generously to sauces, in pesto, and as a garnish. It’s also the key ingredient in our Basil Green Goddess Grilled Chicken with Red Onions and our Strawberry-Basil Martini. Some years we plant it next to our tomato pots, which seems to make both plants much happier. We’ve also grown lemon basil cultivars, as well as purple basil, which brings a delightful color variation to the collection. But the type that brings us the most delight every year is Thai basil. This week it’s going to bring us (and, we hope, you) even more delight as an assertive note in a tart and zesty gimlet.
Thai basil is visually quite different from the sweet variety. The stems are purple-hued, its leaves are much smaller and more pointed, and if you let it get to flower, both you and your local pollinators will admire its dark purple petals. If you chew a raw leaf, you’ll immediately be struck by a flavor of licorice or aniseed. It’s a fantastic addition to Thai curries, and Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops (marinated in fish sauce, sugar and lime). Though it’s likely too overpowering in recipes where basil needs to blend in (such as a tomato sauce), we think it’s perfect to balance the notes of sour citrus and sweet simple syrup when muddled into a gimlet. Of course, you could also use sweet basil (which would be delicious), but only Thai basil will give you that spicy licorice kick.
A gimlet is, by design, a sour drink. It’s said that Sir Thomas Gimlette first mixed gin with lime cordial and administered the drink to sailors in order to stave off scurvy. (Listen, he was a Surgeon General, so we trust his medical chops.) Lack of vitamin C may not be too much of an occupational hazard for most of us these days, but it doesn’t hurt to bolster your levels. We like our gimlets just a little sweeter, so the recipe below makes for a more balanced cocktail. Give it a taste once you mix it, and you can adjust the sourness/sweetness with more lime, or more simple syrup.
Although it’s not part of the classic gimlet recipe, we also like to add a little elderflower liqueur. It’s one of our favorite cocktail additions, and this year for the first time we harvested our elderflower bushes to make a gorgeous floral syrup.
While you can make a gimlet with either vodka or gin, we most often choose the latter. We love the botanical flavors in a really good gin, and these days there are so many great small-batch brands to try out. Our personal favorite is Hendrick’s (they’re not paying us to say so!), and a couple of years ago we stayed in the lowlands of Scotland near their distillery. Unfortunately, they weren’t running public tours, but one day we’d love to see inside it (Hendrick’s! Call us!).
(Incidentally, our first cookbook Cork and Knife contains a chapter on cooking with both vodka and gin, including such recipes as Gin and Tonic Pound Cake, Swedish Meatballs with Gin Gravy, and Gin and Blueberry Ice Cream. It makes a great gift for either you or another foodie in your life. If you haven’t checked it out already, you can order it here!)
So here’s our Thai Basil gimlet. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Here’s to our summer friends, the herbs, and here’s to our year-long friends: you. Cheers!
Thai Basil Gimlet
- 6 large Thai basil leaves plus more for garnish
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 ½ ounces gin
- 1 ounce St. Germain
- Place the basil leaves in a cocktail shaker and add the simple syrup and lime juice. Muddle the basil leaves with a muddler or the bottom of a wooden spoon to release the oils.
- Add the gin and St Germain and fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
- Using a strainer, pour the mixture into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of Thai Basil.