I admit that I’m positively giddy with excitement. We decided on the spur of the moment to celebrate our anniversary by going to the Florida Keys. Who says you can’t be spontaneous after 20 years? Cuba, home of the Mojito, is just a little over 100 miles from Key West so I’m imagining it may be our drink of choice. I know the Northwest weather hasn’t reached the warmth we’ll be experiencing on the beach, but our mint is perfect for cocktails right now. Besides, I need to get in shape for enjoying a nightly cocktail while watching the sunset. Charlie, our master mixologist, came up with a brilliant way to join our reluctant mint with our exuberant lemon balm in a mojito that is truly mo’ better.
We inherited a lovely patch of mint from the previous owners of our house. It’s moved to different locations around the yard but most recently has taken up residence in a rather unattractive edge of the driveway and seems happy there. The timing of Northwest mint is a little off when it comes to cocktails. It usually barely shows up in time for mint juleps on Kentucky Derby day. Prime time is actually right now, a little on the cool side for sipping mojitos. I find if I keep using it, it will come back but nothing beats the very first tender shoots of spring. We also have a nice patch of lemon balm so we’ve added a sprig to give this mojito a little something extra from the garden.
The most important thing we recently learned about making drinks with mint or lemon balm is to be very gentle when muddling. Easy does it. Lightly bruise the leaves rather than tearing them. If you are too vigorous, you risk ending up with a bitter drink instead of one that’s slightly sweet and minty. This becomes especially important once the mint is a little older and tougher.
Mojitos traditionally use lime and mint. we’ve added just a taste of lemon juice and lemon balm in this local version. It’s a drink you can build rather than shake so no need to pack the shaker if you are planning a picnic. Just cut several sprigs and set them in a little water as you would a bouquet of flowers. They should keep nicely for several hours. If you want to be spontaneous, you don’t even have to heat the sugar and water for your simple syrup. It’s perfectly acceptable to stir or shake it in a closed container.
Mo’ Better Mojito
2 sprigs mint and 1 extra for garnish
1 sprig lemon balm
1 oz simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water)
2 oz white rum (we’ll be on the look out for some special Caribbean rums in Florida but Cruzan, discovered while we were in St. Croix, is our favorite locally available rum).
1/2 oz lemon juice
1 oz club soda or seltzer water
Strip leaves of mint & lemon balm off the stems and muddle gently in the bottom of your glass with a splash of simple syrup or a little sugar.
Add rest of simple syrup, rum and lime & lemon juice. Stir gently.
Add ice to fill your glass. Top off with club soda or seltzer water.
Stir gently again and garnish with a sprig of mint.
In case you’re interested, I found this great video on how to juice key limes.