When I was asked to not only photograph a Columbia business school reunion party but also come up with a healthy(ish) signature drink, I was all over it.
While it seems like a contradiction to label an alcoholic beverage as healthy, living a full and healthy life is all about balance. This means that while we aim to to eat well, stay active and get enough rest most of the time, there also needs to be room for some fun in there. While I’m not giving the green flag to go out and party every night, being social with friends and having a couple of drinks every so often can be just as important to our wellbeing. Our familial and social networks provide us the support and happiness that are as beneficial as (if not more than) the amount of kale we eat.
When one does imbibe, the old wives tale about mixing drinks is not so far off and even pertains to the ingredients within a single drink. So if you are going to partake, aim to sip in moderation and keep it simple with something like vodka soda or wine. I learned the hard way during graduate school that large Solo cup-sized fluorescent blue drinks with expletives in their name are really not a good idea – don’t let the $4 price tag fool you.
For people who have a tendency for migraine (and thus usually pretty bad hangovers), it’s especially a good idea to keep it simple. Most do best with clear liquors and white wine, but it really does depend on the person. Similar to the foods you eat, you need to figure out what works for you. Champagne for many can be particularly potent due to its carbonation and high sugar content. Another hard lesson I learned after one night at a friend’s party just after college – I only had 1.5 glasses of champagne and ended up with vertigo (aka the spins) the next morning, needing to sleep upright in bed, and literally walking like a drunk person for over a week. For me, vertigo is one manifestation of migraine I can experience. Not a good time.
Somehow my mishaps with liquor have become a lesson for everyone else…
In any case, if you do opt for the fancier mixed drinks, it’s ideal to do it somewhere you can get natural ingredients (think freshly made margarita mix versus the bottled fluorescent green or blue kind). I like to combine my drinks with fruits, veggies and herbs that can help balance out the negative impacts of the alcohol, namely inflammation, dehydration and immune suppression. Plus, they are generally tastier than those with high fructose corn syrup. Just saying.
This is where the Watermelon Jalapeño Mojito comes in. It’s a mashup using Ina Garten’s recipe to prepare Watermelon Mojitos with the addition of the jalapeño. Besides the fact that I’m a fan of anything with a kick, even my beverages, these ingredients can help you to feel okay about the drink you’re having. You can even use an organic rum. While this drink does have sugar included, you can play around with other sweeteners when making simple syrups (e.g. coconut nectar, honey, stevia, date syrup, molasses, etc.) but it’s always best to stay away from anything artificial. For this batch I did a mix of organic cane sugar and coconut nectar, which has a lower impact on glycemic index, and it worked out well. Note that other sweeteners may alter the color and flavor some so keep that in mind when considering the particular drink/use you have for it.
Here’s the information sheet I put together at the bar, along with some pictures from the event and the recipe to follow at the end. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be made in my kitchen a few times this summer.
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 jalapeño, sliced
- 30 large fresh mint leaves, coarsely torn by hand
- 3 to 4 thick slices fresh watermelon
- 12 ounces light rum (like Bacardi or an organic one if you can find)
- 1/2 cup jalapeño simple syrup
- 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (3 limes)
- Sprigs of mint and spears of watermelon, for serving
- Combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add in sliced jalapeño. Note, you can either slice crosswise and include the seeds (spicier) or slice lengthwise and remove the seeds (less spicy). Similarly, you can keep the jalapeño in the syrup for an hour or leave overnight. I prefer mine on the spicier side, so I go with the crosswise cut and overnight infusion.
- At the end of either method, use a slotted ladle or strain the syrup to remove the peppers. They become almost candied overnight and can make for a fun additional garnish, a tasty snack or you can save for another use rather than throwing away.
- Once the syrup has cooled to room temperature, it can be stored in the refrigerator.
- Use a mortar and pestle to mash the mint leaves.
- Remove and discard the rind and seeds of the watermelon. Put the fruit into a blender and purée.
- Put the mashed mint into a large pitcher with 2 cups of puréed watermelon, the rum, simple syrup, and lime juice and stir to combine.
- Place ice cubes in 6 glasses and pour the mojito mixture into the glasses. Garnish with sprigs of fresh mint and spears of watermelon (and a piece of candied jalapeño, if desired). Serve ice cold.