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Saturday, March 11, 2023

Shrubs, not just for your garden anymore!

Refreshing Beverage of the Week
I love the way words and terms define us. I used to erase, now I delete. I used to call someone, now I ping them. I used to say "I'm not in the mood to talk about that," now I say "let's circle back to that and take it offline." (Just kidding, I never say that shit but I learned it when I worked in corporate kitchens in NYC.) I used to eat everything, I was a "good" eater and exercised whenever, now I am a senior citizen obsessed with micronutrients and strengthening my core. Currently we are obsessed with probiotics, kombucha, apple cider gummies, actually all kinds of gummies, and kraut. Life goes on.

My clients (I am a private chef) have decided to limit their alcohol intake and have asked me to make mocktails. These drinks mirror actual cocktails using non-alcoholic booze substitutes — which, frankly, taste awful and are terribly expensive. So I searched the internet for recipes and, so far, not too many were drinkable. They are unhealthy and usually full of high-sugar fruit juice.

The non-alcoholic beverage market is booming and I have tried about 5 different brands and I would say the best-tasting ones are the gin alternatives. Juniper berries are very distinctive and even in a weird herbal base that flavor reminds you of gin. I tried a non-alcoholic tequila beverage made with apple. I accidentally spilled some, and it was so vile I had to scrub down my counter with lemon juice to kill the odor. So I started looking for other options.

This brings me to the subject of shrubs. I first had a shrub at Russ & Daughters Cafe, and it was love at first sip! A shrub is a drink made with fruit- and herb-infused vinegars (usually apple cider vinegar), a sweetener, and some club soda or anything sparkly. You'll find tons of recipes out there to make the vinegar. I am going to share a great all-around method and then some recipes. There are two ways to make a shrub: cold and hot. Hot is faster, cold is better.

Basic recipe for any fruit shrub · Food52

1 pound chopped fruit
2 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar (usually apple cider, I also like using rice wine vinegar, coconut, or white balsamic)
optional: ginger; rosemary; thyme; cardamon; bay leaves; etc.

Assemble your fruit (sliced or gently mashed) in a bowl, and toss it with the sugar. Let this mixture sit, covered securely with a dishtowel, on your kitchen counter for about 2 days. Stir once a day. It should start to look very juicy. After 2 days, strain the mixture into a measuring cup, discard the fruit, then combine the syrup with approximately an equal amount of vinegar (again, your choice, but apple cider vinegar is a good place to start). Do this slowly, tasting as you go, so that you get a shrub that is sharp but tasty.

That's it! Pour it into a jar and stick it in the fridge. Here are two recipes with great combo of flavors.

Mixed berry shrub · Bon Appetit

12 ounces berries (such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or strawberries), sliced or quartered if large
1 1/2 cups (or more) granulated sugar
1 cup (or more) vinegar (such as red wine, white wine, apple cider, white balsamic, or unseasoned rice)

Gently mash berries in a medium bowl with a fork. Transfer to jar, add sugar, and stir to combine. Seal jar and let fruit mixture sit at room temperature, shaking a couple of times, until berries are very soft and falling apart and sugar is at least mostly dissolved, about 1 day (mixture should look very juicy).

Strain fruit mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Line sieve with a layer of cheesecloth if you want to catch every bit of seed and fruit pulp, discard fruit. Scrape any undissolved sugar left in jar into bowl. Add vinegar to syrup and stir to combine. Taste shrub and adjust of necessary. Pour shrub into a clean jar; cover with lid and chill until flavors come together and mellow, at least 1 week.

Shrub can be made 6 months ahead. Keep chilled.

To make a drink, pour 2 Tbsp. shrub into a glass filled with ice and top off with club soda; stir gently to combine. Garnish with berries and/or herbs. Thai basil is a good choice!

Butternut Sage shrub · The Spruce Eats

2 cups good-quality apple cider vinegar
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups cubed butternut squash
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, from about 8 sprigs
Cold seltzer, ginger ale, or still water, for serving

Place the apple cider vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the sugar. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.

Add the butternut squash and sage. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the squash is softened and easily pierced with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Lightly smash the softened squash with a potato masher or wooden spoon in the saucepan to release more flavor. Cover and steep for 3 hours.

Strain the squash and sage from the liquid using a fine-mesh strainer. Bottle the shrub, seal, and refrigerate for 3 to 4 days before using.

To make a drink, pour 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) of the butternut-sage shrub into a glass (over ice, if you like). Top with about 6 ounces (3/4 cup) of cold seltzer, ginger ale, or water, pouring more or less to taste. Stir well.

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