A few years ago, my partner and I took a vacation to Boston. In February. One of our more brilliant ideas, I know, though somehow it was actually snowing more in Baltimore that year. We had planned to visit some family, see the city, and eat some food. We didn't make any reservations, figuring we'd walk around and see what seemed good. We had forgotten that Sunday was Valentine's Day. The first place we found that actually had a table was a little hole-in-the-wall North African restaurant called Baraka Café in Cambridge. I've forgotten what I ate for dinner that night, but the pitcher of lemonade that we drank alongside it, what the menu called cherbat—well, I've never stopped thinking about it.
The lemonade was flavored with dried rose petals, fresh mint, and "North African spices." While lemonade usually screams summer, this one was just as natural to drink in the middle of February. The spices gave a slight warmth and bitterness to it, and there was an almost milky quality that gave it more presence than you would expect from lemons, water, and sugar. And as someone who doesn't really like cut flowers, I appreciated the romance of roses without the waste.
I won't call this a replica of Baraka's cherbat—it's been so long that I'm not willing to make any promises. But the long cooking time of the syrup with spices and zest gives it that same gentle bitterness and silky feel. The rose gives a strong floral taste, but the citrus and spice prevent it from being perfumy. It's not the same, but it gives me that same feeling I had years ago of wanting to greedily drink it all.
Since this syrup lasts a relatively long time in the fridge and can be used a few tablespoons at a time, it begs for experimentation. I loved it as a nontraditional addition to a Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer sometimes served with sweet fruit or herb syrup to cut the acidity. It just so happens that The Wine Source currently has a Berliner Weisse available on its growler menu, so I'd recommend giving that a try. You could also use seltzer instead of plain water to make a sparkling lemonade. Drizzle it over vanilla ice cream and toss slivered almonds on top, or maybe brush it as a glaze on a warm pound cake? Whatever you do with it, the marriage of sour, spicy, and sweet is sure to make an impression.
Spiced Lemon-Rose Syrup
1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 5-6 small lemons)
2 cups of water
2 ½ cups sugar
Zest of half an organic lemon, peeled off in strips
1 cinnamon stick
10 green cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
¼ cup dried rose buds
1 organic lemon
Fresh mint (optional)
Lemon slice (optional)
Dried rose buds (optional)
In a medium saucepan, combine lemon juice, water, and sugar. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and rose buds. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce to low. Let simmer for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Syrup should be reduced in volume but still somewhat thin.
Remove from heat and strain into a heatproof bowl. Discard spices. Cut your remaining organic lemon in half and juice. Strain the pulp and seeds out and set aside. Let cool until lukewarm, then add the empty lemon halves and reserved juice. Press the peels with a muddler or pestle to release the lemon essential oils. This and the fresh juice give a bright, fresh complement to the cooked lemon juice.
Strain into a glass jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator.
To serve as lemonade, stir 3-4 tablespoons of syrup into 1 cup of cold water. Start with 3 and give it a taste before you add more. Gently muddle with a few fresh mint leaves, then add ice. Garnish with more fresh mint, a slice of lemon, and/or dried rose buds if desired.
Snackcrafting is a blog series about culinary creativity with a dash of arts-and-crafts panache. Fill your pantry, fridge, and freezer with homemade goodies to eat and share.