I have a freezer full of cherries. I couldn’t be more ecstatic. I love feasting on fresh cherries in their simplest form – eating them clean and spitting out their pits. Cherry season though — is long gone. Instead, I use my freezer supply to fill my fresh cherry void. I get creative. In fact, my mind works like an overactive pendulum, thinking of ways to reinvent the ubiquitous cherry.
Lately, it seems wherever I have been spending time, (Vancouver in particular) there is a sudden influx of Neapolitan-inspired pop-up pizzerias. They all have the same format, small spaces that happen to do their pizza wizardry from the back of a dimly lit pizza kitchen. While I love me some pizza (that is a whole different post), it’s really my fascination with Italian Soda at these pizzerias that prompted this post.
That’s the thing. These swanky (or supposedly swanky) pop-ups have Italian sodas on their menus. If you’ve never had an Italian soda, they’re rich and refreshing all at the same time. Something to sip and savour, even in the rain. They usually blend house-made (if it’s a good place) syrups with fizzy water like San Pellegrino Sparkling Mineral Water). It tastes awful on its own to me, but is perfect for a light, fizzy Italian soda. Some whipping cream or half-in-half, and maybe even a fruity garnish are all mandatory.
The soda arrives fresh and bubbly, just like the piping hot pizza (Yum, PIZZA)! It’s a change from traditional sugary sodas and perfect for festive occasions (the holidays are just around the corner). Light, crisp and fruity. Who wouldn’t like that?
There is much debate about where Italian sodas originated. Some say Italy, others say it was a commercial ploy by a San Francisco based syrup company. Really though, the authenticity doesn’t matter to me. What does though is the similarity to the South Asian drink Sardai.
Sardai (pronounced “sur-DIE-ee”) is a simple, yet symbolic drink that combines pureed almonds, milk, honey, and rose water flavouring mixed into water and ice. Some Sardai recipes add fennel seeds, cardamom, saffron, and even black pepper. It’s refreshingly light and mildly sweet, with a slight almond undertone. Growing up, I remember drinking it only once a year. It was a big deal. It was tied to a religious event and served at our local temple. I remember thinking, perhaps even wishing it was served often, daily even. Yes, it was that good.
This Cherry Coconut Mint Soda combines the concepts of both Italian sodas and Sardai to create a deliciously bubbly and creamy delight, sans dairy products. My recipe has a couple of steps, but is well worth the effort, especially during the holidays.
The syrup is the most difficult part and even that is incredibly simple. By combining cherries, sugar, garam masala and mint in a large bowl, the mixture is tossed around so the cherries are coated. Next the bowl is covered with plastic wrap and left to macerate overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning, the cherry mixture is whizzed about in a blender until it is smooth. Once the syrup is prepared and chilling in the refrigerator, making the final drink is actually a quick endeavour.
Just on a side note, this cherry syrup concoction would also be an exceptional addition to sparkling wine or a martini. Something to try, if you like to have an alcoholic drink on occasion.
Back to the drink at hand, in a blender combine some of the cherry-mint syrup with coconut milk. Blend until smooth. You’ll figure out the perfect ratio of syrup to coconut milk, some will like it sweeter than others. I like mine more on the savoury side, so I like less syrup. Pour some of the mixture into a tall glass, usually about 1/3 of the way up. Top with Pellegrino or club soda, ice, and maybe a few frozen cherries as garnish.
The simplicity and flavour combinations behind this simple beverage has me bubbling over with happiness. *Que the drumroll* Cherries and mint go together so well. Cherries and coconut milk go well together. Merged together, these bold flavours are daring yet delicious. Topped with Pellegrino or club soda they become even better.
For those of you wanting to indulge in an alcoholic version. Add your favourite spirit for a boozy kick. A few ounces of light rum or vodka would make this soda even more celebratory.
I have to say, the cherries in this soda are spectacular, but think of the possibilities of this technique with other fruits, spices, and herbs. Blackberry-cardamom soda; nectarine-chili soda; watermelon-lime-chaat soda. The possibilities are truly endless. *Clink* *Clink* Cheers!
Cherry Coconut Mint Soda
2 cups pitted fresh cherries
1 cup sugar
½ cup chopped fresh mint
½ teaspoon of garam masala
½ cup coconut milk (I like the full-fat version best)
Pellegrino or Club soda
Syrup: Combine cherries, sugar, garam masala and mint in a large bowl, toss the mixture around so the cherries are coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let macerate overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning, blend the cherry mixture in a blender until it is smooth.
Soda: In a blender combine some of the cherry-mint syrup with coconut milk. Blend until smooth. Pour some of the cherry/coconut mixture into a tall glass, about 1/3 of the way up. Top with club soda and ice. Enjoy.