The seasonal forty day north wind usually keeps June somewhat cooler and speeds the ripening of dates on the palm trees. Summer temperatures will soar and reading 45 degrees celsius and up on a car thermometer leaves you feeling drained and rather hot. Whether it’s for relaxation or re-hydration, cool refreshing drinks are always welcome and two of my favourite summer drinks are a mojito and a nojito… a mojito without the alcohol.
While waiting patiently for my lime tree to start producing fruit (I do use the leaves), I love using the small flavorsome limes that grow locally, even touching them perfumes your fingers with their wonderful scent. Also, fresh mint is so accessible here and the herbs spearmint flavour is used often in my cooking.
Making a mojito into a cocktail or a mocktail is up to you, however, extracting the flavour from the mint and lime is the “key,” so a bit of muddling is needed. Using the whole lime is important, the juice and rind have different flavours and you want all those lovely oils from the rind, as well as using the juice. Bruising the mint leaves extracts the oils, chopping the mint leaves and adding to the drink will not achieve the same results… muddling everything together is the best way of extracting all that lime and mint goodness!
Now I don’t have a specially assigned muddler but I do have a spurtle which I have used more times (up-side down) for making mojitos/nojitos than stirring porridge! You could use a large pestle and mortar if you were making up a few mojitos/nojitos, muddle together the limes, mint leaves and sugar before dividing into each glass.
I prefer to use chilled bottled sparkling water and not canned soda water for these drinks. When muddling I like to use a fine-grained sugar which dissolves quicker. The sugar also creates some friction and helps extract more flavour from the mint and lime. If I make a mojito/nojito for others I keep the taste on the sharper side and serve a small bowl of powdered sugar on the side, should anyone need to stir in a tad more sweetness to their drink. The recipe is for one serving but you can make as many as you wish and adjust the recipe according to your taste. Making up a mojito or nojito is so easy and the flavours are so clean, delicious and refreshing. I do hope you try a bit of muddling over the summer.
Mojito or Nojito
- 12 large fresh mint leaves
- 2 small limes cut into quarters, remove the pips
- 2 or 3 teaspoons white caster sugar
- 4 ice cubes
- 2 tablespoons of white rum (optional)
- chilled sparkling water
How to make: Place the mint leaves and lime quarters into a tall sturdy glass. Add the sugar and use a muddler (you might have to improvise here) to crush the mint and lime together to release the juice and oils from the lime and mint. Add the ice cubes and white rum (if using), pour in the sparkling water to fill the glass. Stir with a swizzle stick and serve immediately.
Recently some friends travelled to Vietnam and how I wished they could have packed me in their suitcase! However, they did bring back a little of Vietnam in the form of a cookbook, Vietnamese Food by Bobby Chinn (already a fan) from his restaurant in Saigon. Thank you dear friends… a wonderful foodies gift!
Having indulged recently (not just me) on some home-made bread and desserts it was time to scale down the calories in the household and this Vietnamese Salad made a welcoming change! Not wanting to spend as much time in the kitchen (needing a break), preparing food that is quick and easy without compromising on flavour and taste is first choice.
The taste of this simple salad relies on the freshest ingredients… so no limp herbs, dried out carrots and dry chicken please!
Using a julienne peeler for preparing the carrots for this salad came in very handy but of course you can use a good sharp knife instead!
The original recipe uses birds-eye chillies, but I opted to use medium chillies instead. Depending on your tolerance level to the spicy heat (Scoville scale) of different chillies you may want to de-seed them! You could also make this salad with prawns instead of chicken, replace the basil with mint and scatter over a few roasted peanuts on top, the choice is yours! Bursting with fresh clean flavours this salad makes you feel good after you’ve eaten it and the only shame would be… not to make it!
The recipe below has been adapted from the cookbook Vietnamese Food by Bobby Chinn.
- 4 small skinless chicken fillets, poached (see note below)
- 2 star anise
- fresh chicken stock or make some using a stock cube
- 4 lemon grass stalks, tough outer leaves removed and very finely sliced
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 to 4 medium chillies de-seeded (or not), finely snipped using kitchen scissors
- 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into very fine matchsticks (100g)
- 50g thinly sliced white onions
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
- 100ml of freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil (I used Thai basil from the garden)
- 1/4 cup of freshly chopped coriander
Poaching the chicken: Place the chicken fillets in a single layer into a saucepan and pour in some chicken stock to cover, add the star anise. Bring the stock to a gently boil and immediately reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook the chicken for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan with a lid and allow the chicken to further cook in the hot stock for about 20 minutes. Test the thickest part of the chicken to make sure it is cooked through, if not, bring the stock back to a simmer and leave (removing from heat) to cook for a couple of minutes more. When done transfer the cooked chicken fillet onto a plate and cool.
Assembling the salad: Place the lemon grass, spring onion, chilli, carrots, onions and garlic into a mixing bowl. Shred the cooled chicken and add to the mixing bowl. Pour over the lime juice and gently toss all the ingredients together. Next throw in the basil and coriander and gently toss together. Divide the salad between four serving plates and serve immediately. Serves 4.