The beginning of a new year calls for more health-conscious consumption to counteract the cloyingly festive drinks that are inescapable during the holidays. While tequila may not be the first thing that comes to mind in this rejuvenative period, the dry nature of the agave spirit and the classic margarita are actually perfect vehicles for transporting us to the fresh flavors of warmer climates.
During several jaunts to Mexico for Top Chef, Padma Lakshmi, host and author of The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, noticed many parallels between Mexican and Asian climates and cuisines. Not being a big fan of sugary drinks, Padma took an innovative approach to cocktails. She often experiments with spices as an alternative means for bringing flavor, but not sweetness.
“Ginger and turmeric are as familiar to me as the smells I was born into…. They are from the very town or state of India that my ancestors and I are from,” she says, speaking of her South Indian heritage. Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and India produces a majority of the world’s supply while also utilizing it as an indispensable part of its cuisines.
Bright yellow in color, turmeric is known for its many healthful proprieties and adds an earthy, peppery flavor to the drink, while ginger carries far more of a bite. Together with the mint and Patrón tequila, this combination makes for a margarita that takes on a life of its own, uplifting the senses with each sip. For Padma, having an understanding about the “potent parcels of flavor” found in spices opens the door to many exciting culinary explorations. As the world gets smaller and more connected, the world of cocktails will certainly see more such hybrids. Enjoy.
Servings: 1 cocktail
2 ounces Patrón silver tequila
1 ounce ginger-turmeric simple syrup*
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3-4 fresh mint leaves
*For the ginger-turmeric syrup:
- Combine 1 cup of water, ¾ cup sugar and 4 inches of peeled and sliced fresh ginger root in a small saucepan.
- Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook until sugar dissolves. Let steep for at least 10 minutes.
- Add 1 teaspoon turmeric powder and stir until incorporated. Strain syrup through a coffee filter and store for later use.
- Prepare the rimmed glass by combining 1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric and 2 teaspoon salt on a small plate.
- Wet the top of a rocks glass with a wedge of orange and dip it into the spice mix.
- Add several mint leaves to a cocktail shaker and add the Patrón, lime juice and ginger-turmeric syrup.
- Add ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds, then strain over ice in the rimmed rocks glass.
- Garnish with an orange wedge and optional mint sprig.
Prep time: 3 minutes, not including syrup