A Cordial Affair


Kaffir Lime Cordial


I’ve never been much of a trend spotter, and even less of a trend setter – just ask my friends from high school how many other people were wearing thrift-store kaftans. (Answer: none.) So, it would probably be wise to refrain from making any kind of predictions about the kinds of things that are likely to take the culinary world by storm in the coming months, but I have such a strong feeling about this one I’m going to stick my neck out. Call it a hunch or remarkable stroke of foresight, but I’m betting that soon, on drinks trays across the land, gone will be the gourmet juice cocktails, the expensive imported waters in futuristic glass bottles, and the flavored iced teas in every color of the rainbow, and in their place will be small pitchers of the intensely aromatic syrups called cordials.

Here’s why.

1. They’re cheap. As in pennies-per-drink cheap. And for whom is that not welcome news in these lean times? Of course if you choose to flavor yours with white truffle or fresh Himalayan goji berries they won’t be, but just about everything else will give you a pretty good cost-to-drink ratio. That is, unless you insist on diluting your cordials with bling.

2. They’re homemade. Along with cheap, I’m told anything made at home is all the rage now. Who knew? And to think, I was doing it all along – maybe I’m more of a trend setter than I imagined!

3. They’re sophisticated. Certainly much more sophisticated than plain water, no matter how groovy the design of the bottle it comes in. How cool will your guests think you are when you offer them a cucumber-cardamom cordial instead?

4. They’re versatile. As-is, they make great party options for kids and designated drivers. For those who want something harder, they easily double as cocktail mixers. Just top your glass up with a splash of gin or vodka, and you’ve just turned your refreshing afternoon thirst-quencher into a sexy evening tipple.

5. They allow you to stretch your creative muscles. Just think of all the flavor combinations at your fingertips! Off the top of my head, I’d say any of the following would make a killer cordial: lemon, ginger, rose water, vanilla, blood or regular orange, mandarin, lavender, pandan leaf, cinnamon, hibiscus, lemongrass, lemon verbena, mint, cracked cherry pits, and of course, the aforementioned cucumber and cardamom. Oh, not to mention just about any other fruit you can think of – and who knows, maybe even a few vegetables?

6. The British have been drinking them for ages, and if there’s one corner of the culinary galaxy the Brits have mastered, it’s the liquid one. Don’t believe me? Just consider British ales, the gin and tonic, the Pimm’s Cup cocktail, Earl Grey with a twist of lemon… See? In Britain, where cordials also masquerade under the name ‘squash’ (I haven’t figured out what the difference is), a good half-aisle in any supermarket is full of them, in every flavor from black currant to elderflower to lemon-barley (yeah, that one confounded me too, but it’s actually not half bad).

So there you have it. Are cordials the next cupcakes? Well, to be honest I don’t mind either way; the most important thing to me is that no one goes home thirsty.

Kaffir Lime Cordial

This is my recipe for a lime cordial with a twist, namely the delicate flavor of kaffir lime leaves. I also use this recipe as a template for other kinds of cordial, which I hope you’ll do too. A few thoughts: depending on the flavors you choose, you might want to substitute a tablespoon or so of powdered citric acid for lime or lemon juice for a more neutral tartness. As for sweetening, I imagine you could substitute a natural sweetener such as agave syrup for the sugar, though you’ll have to play around with the exact amount. Also, as far as spices go, use whole ones, not ground. Fruit cordials are no less difficult, but will probably take some experimentation to find the ideal ratios; I would start with a pound or so of fruit, coarsely chopped or crushed, and take it from there. Oh, and keep in mind that tart fruits – particularly things like raspberries, pomegranate, rhubarb, etc – will need less acid added to the syrup.
Yield: just under 2 cups syrup; recipe can easily be doubled

2 cups (400g) sugar
1 1/2 cups (325ml) water
8 kaffir lime leaves, sliced into ribbons
1/2 cup (125ml) lime juice
still or sparkling water and ice, for serving

Bring the sugar, water and lime leaves to a rolling boil in a medium-sized saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently for about 7-8 minutes, until the syrup smells intensely of lime leaves. Add the lime juice and simmer gently until the liquid begins to thicken, about another 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Strain the syrup into a clean glass bottle, discarding the lime leaves. Cover and refrigerate; like this the syrup will keep for a month.

To make a cordial, combine one tablespoon syrup with about 12oz (375ml) cold water and stir to combine. Serve over ice, if you like.