When it’s this hot out, our guests at Zahav tend to eat a little less and drink a little more, particularly icy cold cocktails. The lemonnana is by far our most popular cocktail at Zahav. We go through at least a dozen cases of lemons a week, and during the summer heat, we can barely make them faster than our guests can drink them.
The lemonnana is a cross between a whiskey sour and the lemon-mint slushies that you find in cafes and juice stalls all over Israel. One of the great pleasures of being in Israel is that you can’t walk more than a few blocks without running into a juice stand. The fruit in Israel is tremendous, especially the citrus. Once you’ve had fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, it’s hard to go back to the pasteurized stuff in cartons.
One of my favorite sights is a juice stand lined with cases of pomegranates stacked on top of each other. Fresh pomegranate juice tastes so decadent, it almost makes you think you’re doing something wrong. It’s best to let professionals juice your pomegranates for you. I have ruined many shirts trying to do it myself.
For me, though, it’s the lemonnana that is most evocative of Israel.
The version at Zahav is a deadly simple drink that relies on the quality of its ingredients: Decent bourbon (save the good stuff for sipping), tons of fresh mint and hand-squeezed lemon juice.
Before we opened Zahav, we brought back a juice press from Israel, since it’s impossible to find one in the States as diesel as the ones they have over there (it’s still behind the bar and going strong).
One of the things that makes Zahav’s version stand out is the lemon verbena that we infuse in the simple syrup. Lemon verbena is an herb with a strong lemony flavor and a great, herbaceous perfume. It’s available fresh during the summer, but you can also find it dried year-round. If you can’t find it at all, there are any number of things you could play around with to create your own personal twist on the drink (lemon zest, lemon balm, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf all come to mind).
A lot of people who claim to not like bourbon have found their salvation in the lemonnana. But for those who refuse to come over to the dark side, the recipe works great with vodka, light rum or even gin. Of course, this drink doesn’t need alcohol at all. A virgin lemonnana on its own is a study in refreshment. Topped with some club soda, I could probably drink six of them.
But for maximum cool down potential, throw everything in a blender with some ice cubes and find yourself a shady spot.
24 mint leaves
8 sugar cubes (or 8 tsps. granulated sugar)
6 oz. bourbon
4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 oz. verbena syrup (see recipe below)
12 oz. water
Tear the mint leaves and place in the bottom of a large pitcher with the sugar cubes. Muddle the mint and sugar together using a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon until the mint has turned dark green and is well-broken down.
Fill the pitcher with ice and add the bourbon, lemon juice, verbena syrup and water. Stir well. You may want to add additional water, to taste.
For a non-alcoholic lemonnana, replace the bourbon with an additional 2 ounces each of lemon juice, verbena syrup and water.
For a frozen lemonnana, fill a blender cup with ice and add all of the remaining ingredients except the water. Blend and adjust the consistency with water, to taste.
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 small bunch verbena
Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pot. Bring to a simmer over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cool overnight in the refrigerator and then strain.
Steven Cook is co-owner of Zahav, Percy Street Barbecue and Federal Donuts.