Thai-inspired lemongrass mojitos with basil

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Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you planned.
Last weekend was our friend Colleen’s birthday, so we invited her over for a night of Thai food and board games. We usually order Thai out, but I was feeling adventurous, so I hit the grocery store and stocked up on lemongrass, cilantro, galangal, red chiles and the like. I got out my Thai cookbooks and started planning.

But first, I decided that Colleen needed a signature cocktail for the evening. Something that incorporated some of the same flavors I was going to be cooking with. The experiments began.

I started with coconut milk and lemongrass. Colleen and I are both crazy about Marnee Thai’s Tom Kha Gai, a creamy chicken and coconut milk soup scented with lemongrass and galangal (a spicy Thai relative of ginger.) What if I muddled lemongrass and galangal and threw it together with rum and coconut milk?

I took a sip. Then another. No.

Ok, what if I took the lemongrass and made a simple syrup with it, then threw it in the blender with coconut milk, rum and ice? Something along the lines of a coconut milk daiquiri?

I got busy making the syrup, taking notes of amounts and proportions as I went along. This was going to be great.

It wasn’t. It tasted like icy coconut milk. So I added more rum. It tasted like milky rum. I added lime. Still no go. Plus, all this tasting was making me tipsy, and the kitchen was a mess of lemongrass and sugar. There were squeezed limes on every surface. And I hadn’t even started on Colleen’s special homemade Thai dinner.

I wasn’t going to let my lack of success to this point get me down. Defeat was not an option. I reassessed. Coconut milk was clearly my enemy, but I still had a fair amount of rum left, some tasty lemongrass simple syrup, and a surprising number of limes. What about a Thai-inspired mojito? Instead of mint, I could use basil (Thai basil or regular basil are both excellent).

The Thai-inspired mojito was a hit. Sadly, my homemade Thai dinner was not. It wasn’t so much that it wasn’t a hit, as much as it just wasn’t. After all of my cocktail experiments, I had completely run out of time to cook any food. With some chagrin, I had to send the only non-tipsy person in the house out to pick up take-out.

The cocktails were pretty good, though.

Thai-inspired Lemongrass Mojito adapted from a recipe on

1 1/2 ounces white rum
1/2 ounce lemongrass simple syrup
1/2 lime (cut in half)
3-4 sprigs fresh basil
4-6 ounces club soda
Combine rum, simple syrup (see recipe below), and basil in a cocktail shaker, then squeeze lime juice into shaker and drop the lime quarters in. Using a muddler or a wooden spoon, gently crush all ingredients to release the flavors. Add ice and shake thoroughly, then strain into a glass of crushed ice. Top with club soda and garnish with basil — and a sprig of lemongrass if you’re feeling fancy.

Fresh Lemongrass Syrup:

1 long stalk fresh lemongrass, coarsely chopped
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer with a lid partially covering for about 15 minutes. Let the lemongrass steep in the syrup while it cools for about an hour, then strain it.

May be kept in a sealed container for about a week.



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