Cranberry Green Chili Lemonade with (or without) Lemon Vodka
Fresh squeezed lemonade, cranberry syrup, and roasted green chilis combine to create an intriguing, unusually complex cocktail that becomes more addicting with every sip.
Earlier this year, on a motorcycle trip to California, my husband and I took shelter from breakneck winds inside a restaurant in the town of Hatch, New Mexico. Hatch is a very small town - under 2000 people - but they produce so many green chilis that they're known as the chili capital of the world.
Predictably, if you find yourself in a restaurant in the chili capital of the world, there's going to be green chilis in everything on the menu - including the beverages. This particular restaurant had a giant container of green chili lemonade right by the cash register, so yeah. Of course I'm going to try that. And, oh my. Green chili lemonade is the bomb.
The fact that green chilies and lemonade belong together makes sense, when you think about it.
Many of the very best dishes and cocktails are good precisely because they include a beautiful balance between bitter, sour, sweet, salty, and sometimes, spicy.
For example, salt does much more than make food taste salty. It enhances sweetness and suppresses bitterness. On my other baking and desserts focused blog, Of Batter and Dough, people often tell me they are surprised by how much salt I include in dessert recipes. And, it's true. For years I've been adding more salt into desserts than most recipes call for because salt is brilliant at simultaneously making sweet flavors more pronounced and balancing them out.
Likewise, sour and spicy are perfect complements to salty. In fact, the spicier the dish, the more you need salt and sour elements to balance out the heat. This is why we salt margarita glasses and add a squeeze of lime to spicy Mexican and Thai dishes.
So, you can see how adding a few spicy green chilis to sweet and sour lemonade makes sense. But, I still felt it was missing something... something bitter.
Enter frozen cranberries.
Having had the realization that my green chili lemonade was in need of something bitter, I remembered the frozen cranberries hanging out in my freezer, just waiting for such an opportunity. I dumped them, still frozen, into a saucepan with a bit of water and sugar and let them simmer until they were very soft and the liquid in the pan was all saucy. Then I pressed them through a strainer and voila! Cranberry syrup. The perfect addition to my cocktail.
Oh yes. I say "cocktail" because if I'm holding a glass of Cranberry Green Chili Lemonade in my hand it most certainly includes an ounce or two of lemon vodka. Which brings me to all the options available with this lovely beverage....
Options, options, cocktail options.
The first option is the alcohol. My preference in this particular cocktail is lemon flavored vodka. But, unflavored vodka, gin, or tequila are all good too. Non-drinkers and youngsters can just leave it out entirely.
The second option involves the kind of sweetener and how much to add. I have absolutely nothing against sugar, but also recognize that it needs to be consumed in moderation. For me, that means I tend to avoid drinking it. In many cocktails, substituting sugar syrup with stevia works great.
In this recipe, I went ahead and used sugar to make the cranberry syrup, but used stevia in the lemonade. You can follow suit, or use sugar all the way through. You should also add more or less depending on your personal tastes. This recipe contains just enough sweetener for my taste - which means it's not super sweet. So, taste it and add more sugar or stevia if you like.
Fizzy additions. You can also bump up the sweetness in your lemonade by adding a splash of lemon-lime soda. Or, if you want the bubbles without adding sweetness, club soda.
Cranberry Green Chili Lemonade is perfect for a crowd.
While most of the cocktail recipes on this blog make 2 or 3 drinks, this recipe makes a pitcher, because it's a fabulous party beverage. It's unique and will surprise and impress your guests. Plus, there's all those options I just mentioned.
I suggest setting the pitcher of Cranberry Green Chili Lemonade out alongside glasses, a bucket of ice, 2 or 3 alcohol choices, and a few cans of lemon-lime and club soda. Let everyone mix their own and watch as your guests stand around the drink table talking about how surprisingly delicious Cranberry Green Chili Lemonade is.
- 2 cups frozen cranberries
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice (approximately 12 lemons)
- ½ cup stevia - OR ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup roasted green chilies, seeds and peel removed, chopped - spicy or mild, or a mix of both
- Candied lemon peel for garnish - optional (see note)
- Add the cranberries, 1 cup sugar and ½ cup water to a medium size saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium and let simmer until the cranberries are very soft, about 6-8 minutes.
- Pour the contents of the saucepan into a fine mesh sieve that's set over a bowl. Press the cranberries with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the solids left in the sieve and set aside the bowl of cranberry syrup to cool while you make the lemonade.
- Add the lemon juice, ½ cup stevia or ¾ cup granulated sugar, and salt to a 2 or 3 quart pitcher and stir to dissolve the stevia or sugar. Add the chopped green chilies and the cranberry syrup. Stir to combine, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, and up to 12.
- Pour the lemonade through a fine mesh strainer into another pitcher or a bowl to remove the green chilies, and serve.