Basil Lemonade Granita
When I was in my early teens, my hometown, Marquette, played host to a bohemian-style restaurant called The Rubaiyat (named after, I'm assuming, the book of Persian poetry). It served a variety of Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean-inspired dishes and it was a unique, delicious, and sadly, fleeting addition to Marquette’s food scene; it closed down after being open only a few years.
Needless to say, The Rubaiyat made a lasting impression on me for several reasons. First because of the ambiance: you entered the outdoor seating area from the sidewalk, walking in beneath an archway that was part of the vine-draped pergola extending over the whole seating area. Every support beam was wrapped in twinkle lights. Second, this restaurant introduced me to flavors I’d never experienced before. And third, because of their basil lemonade.
I will be the first to admit that basil lemonade, like kombucha, most herbal teas, olives, and country music, is an acquired taste. The basil is herbaceous, of course, but it gives the lemonade a zesty sort of spice that some people find too unusual. I don’t ever remember NOT loving it, but I’m sure my initial reaction was “this is weird” and then since it was sweet as well as weird, I took another sip, and kept going back and sipping until it was gone and I had to order another one. I was, from my first (maybe second) sip onward, addicted, and as with many things from my childhood, I’ve been trying to replicate the experience ever since.
Since we’re basically staring fall in the face down here in Oklahoma (just kidding, it’s still 103 every day, even though the neighborhood kids are already back in school and the pools are closing soon), I thought I’d share a recipe that, to me, sings summer. I can’t help but think of county fair lemonade, pesto, Rubaiyat basil lemonade, and all the good lemony, herby things that I spent summers smelling and tasting, when I make this granita. And I mean, it’s basically shave ice, but classier. What’s not to love?
This dessert is adapted from this recipe from Taste of Home.
Basil Lemonade Granita
Serves 4, ~1/2 cup serving size, 107 calories per serving
2/3 c lemon juice, freshly squeezed (3-4 lemons)
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 c water
10-15 fresh basil leaves
Lemon zest (optional)
1. To a small saucepan, add water and granulated sugar. Bring liquid to a simmer over medium heat, just long enough for the sugar to dissolve. The syrup should be perfectly clear. Set aside to cool for several minutes.
2. Meanwhile, zest lemons (if using zest), then add the zest and juice of the lemons to the carafe of a blender. Add basil leaves.
3. Once simple syrup is slightly cooled, add to blender carafe. Secure lid of carafe tightly and blitz mixture on high for 30 seconds or until the basil is very finely chopped. (See Notes below for alternative preparation.)
4. Pour mixture into a 13x9” baking pan (a metal pan would be preferable, since it will freeze more quickly than glass) and place in the freezer. Freeze 1 hour.
5. When the 1 hour is up, grate the granita with the tines of a fork (it may not be very frozen yet except for right at the edges; that’s okay). Then freeze 30 minutes longer, and grate again. Repeat until the mixture is frozen through, with no wet spots, and the mixture resembles fine ice shards, like shave ice. This usually takes 3-5 hours, depending on the type of pan you’re freezing the granita in; shorter for metal pans, longer for glass.
If you don’t have a blender, you can absolutely still make this recipe! Simply chop your lemon zest and basil leaves very finely with a sharp knife, or grind with a mortar and pestle to create a fine paste, and stir together with lemon juice and simple syrup before following the rest of the recipe as written.
I find granitas to be cloyingly sweet most of the time, so I went with less than the Taste of Home recipe called for. You can make this with even less sugar, as little as 1/4 cup, or add up to 2/3 cup, when making your simple syrup, depending on your taste!
You can make this recipe with other herbs, too! I’ve seen it with thyme, as in the Taste of Home recipe, but you could also replace the water with chamomile tea or other juices, and of course you could spike it with a little vodka or gin – just be sure not to add too much alcohol or the mixture will have a hard time freezing.
I haven't tried this, but I've seen other bloggers make slushies in their ice cream machine! How cool is that? I think you could totally try freezing this granita in your ice cream machine for a more drinkable consistency.
What are some of your favorite summer food memories? Do you think you’d enjoy basil or other herbs in your lemonade, or are you more of a purist? 😉