Sekanjabin: A Refreshing Drink for the Lingering Summer
Traditionally summer ends on Labor Day. Kids go back to school, people stop spending long evenings on their porches, and life goes back to ‘normal’. Who was the genius who decided lazing around thinking about the next BLT or slice of peach pie shouldn’t be ‘normal’?
But technically we’ve got nearly a month of summer left, and I don’t intend to miss it. Especially since I live in Portland. We had a late start to summer this year, and even though we managed a few sultry evenings, I feel a little cheated. The tomatoes are slow in coming, I’m afraid I missed the blackberries, and somehow I haven’t eaten anywhere near my summer quota of ice cream.
Sekanjabin is an Iranian mint flavored vinegar syrup that I first came across in Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food, which you might still find in used bookstores. There’s also a recipe—slightly changed—in Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
The sugar syrup balances the vinegar’s bite. Diluted with water or seltzer, it’s the perfect hot weather drink. The one to have on your porch when it’s a little early in the day for a gin and tonic (in case the neighbors are watching). It reminds me a bit of the drinking vinegars at Portland’s Pok Pok and Ping restaurants—only I don’t have to wait in line for it.
Most recipes use red wine vinegar, some use white wine vinegar. All the recipes I found were flavored with mint. But why stop there? Besides the traditional batch with red wine vinegar and mint I also made some with champagne vinegar. I flavored half with borage flowers and half with bay leaves.
The delicate borage flowers fade in the hot champagne vinegar syrup from blue to a sweet pink. They’re so pretty, you might as well leave them in the syrup, and add to the glasses. Their flavor is faint; a couple of handfuls gave off only a hint of their cucumber flavor (and I may just have been in a suggestible mood). But no matter, the champagne vinegar sparkles.
The bay leaves lend their unmistakable flavor to the syrup. The vinegar and sugar provide a contrast that plays up the bay leaves’ sweetness and tames any bitterness.
The red wine vinegar and mint pair perfectly. With a splash of seltzer water and a few blackberries (first for garnish, then stirred in for their sunny flavor) it may just be my favorite summer drink. Well, after a solid gin and tonic.
I’m going to enjoy this three-day weekend. Not by saying good-bye to summer, but by asking it—ever so nicely—if it might not like to stick around just a bit longer. Hopefully it won’t rain at the baseball game (the Portland Beavers last ever, but that’s another story, and a sad one).
And hopefully it will be hot enough, at least one day, to sit on the porch, with a glass of sekanjabin to quench.
Sekanjabin RecipeAdapted from Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food
This is the recipe for the red wine vinegar and mint version. In a second version I substituted champagne vinegar, and flavored half with borage flowers (watch out for the bees!), the other half with bay leaves.
Next time I'll try using sherry vinegar (seems like that would make a nice drink to enjoy with a handful of almonds). But what I’m really dreaming about is a float made with the original recipe and olive oil ice cream. To be eaten after a big green salad.
Makes about 3 cups syrup, enough for 8+ servings
1-1/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
4 big sprigs of mint (or a very generous handful of borage flowers or about 8 bay leaves)
- Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the vinegar (don’t breathe in the fumes unless you want to clear your sinuses), and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
- Take the pan off the stove and submerge the mint in the syrup. Let cool to room temperature.
- Remove the mint (I left the borage flowers and the bay leaves in the container), and refrigerate.