It was on one of those swampy Toronto afternoons, the ones that are impossibly hot, humid and clammy all at once, when my mother and I got on the topic of limeade. We specifically craved nimbu pani (nimbu meaning lemon in Hindi and pani is water). It is basically Indian lemonade and an utterly effective way to send a shiver down the spine.
It is also a drink inexorably tied to my childhood visits to India; I have Proustian remembrance of an aunt pouring mine into a metal cup, which immediately frosted over on contact. Somehow the vessel made the drink feel that much colder and to this day I prefer nimbu pani as icy as I can get it. Mom tells me that Biji, my maternal grandfather’s mother, made the finest nimbu pani. (Biji wasn’t her given name; it is a term of respect for matriarchs and the only name I ever called her.)
Biji’s nimbu pani had a simple touch of salt, though some recipes include chaat masala (a blended spice mix including black salt) or ground jeera (cumin). The salt is thought to aid in the prevention of dehydration in hotter climes. As a child, I didn’t much care why it might be there – I just liked the taste of salt with citrus. Speaking of citrus, our nimbus weren’t lemons; rather, they were yellow limes. These plump, daffodil-hued orbs, also called sweet limes, are milder than the more oblong Persian variety. They have sourness, but lack teeth-clenching bitterness.
The day after that muggy Toronto one, mom walked me through Biji’s recipe, which began with a lime syrup. My mother happens to make a tongue-prickling ginger wine and I decided to spike Biji’s with it. The syrup is sugar and water, with both lime zest and fresh juice. The former is cooked to extract its full flavour, while the latter is added at the last minute to preserve its freshness. Ginger comes into play in peeled coins, added at the same time as the zest. With that syrup, add water and quaff away or, as I did, dress it up into a cocktail.
The combination of lime and berries is one that sings. Black raspberries are a treat, though raspberries or blackberries would work just as well. When stone fruit is abundant, plums or peaches would be brilliant. Onto that muddle, in goes a pour of vodka, ice, then bubbles of your choosing – sparkling water, or something stronger – and finally, a spoonful of sherbet to float atop. Altogether, it is a rather delightful blend of a Moscow Mule, nimbu pani and those effervescent punches made with sherbet and lemon-lime soda. In other words, summer in a glass.
Notes: If short on time, call upon ginger beer with a squeeze of lime to take the place of the syrup and bubbles. For an exceptionally bracing sip, muddle the mint leaf into the raspberries.
Boozy Black Raspberry Float
Ingredients (Makes 8 to 10 drinks, with extra sherbet)
For the lime sherbet (makes 1 quart)
- 3/4 cup caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
- 1/4 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk, cold
For the ginger lime syrup (makes 1 1/4 cups)
- 3/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup caster sugar
- A 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled, and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- A pinch of medium-grained kosher salt
- 1 pound unwaxed limes, preferably organic, about 5 medium
For each drink
- A few black raspberries, 4 or 5, depending on size
- 1 ounce (30 ml) ginger lime syrup, or to taste
- Ice cubes
- 2 ounces (60 ml) vodka
- 2 tablespoons lime sherbet, or more
- Sparkling water, soda water, or sparkling wine, to taste
- Lime slices, mint leaves and edible flowers to garnish
Start by making the sherbet. In food processor with the metal blade attached, grind the sugar with the lime zest and salt until the zest virtually disappears. Tip the sugar into a large jug with a pouring spout. Stir in the water, lime juice and milk. Refrigerate until quite cold, 1 hour. Stir again, then process in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instruction. Spoon into an airtight container and freeze until firm before using, at least 2 hours.
To make the ginger lime syrup, stir the water, sugar, ginger pieces and salt together in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Working over the pot to capture any oils, peel the zest off the limes in strips, leaving the bitter pith behind. Let the strips fall into the saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer until reduced by one-third, 10 minutes. Pull the syrup off the heat and cool completely. While you wait for the syrup, juice the zested limes. Once the syrup has reached room temperature, strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a 2-cup jar. Stir in the lime juice, cover and refrigerate until needed.
To make each drink, drop the raspberries into the bottom of a rocks glass. Anoint with the syrup, then use a muddler or back of a spoon to gently crush the fruit. The purée needn’t be smooth. Clink in a few ice cubes, and pour the vodka over. Scoop the sherbet into the glass. Add the sparkling beverage of choice, and garnish as you’d like. Sip.