Welcome to the first official post of The Gent Goes Global! I have previously done recipes inspired by my trips to the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, and Portugal, but those were conceived before I had the idea for this post series. This starts my journey around the world, researching and exploring dishes from each country. I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to start with, but it turns out that simply listening to a podcast was enough to give me some inspiration.
I follow a number of food podcasts, including Gastropod by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley. I came across an episode that was titled, “Meet Sharbat, the Ancestor of Sorbet, Syrup, Shrub, Sherbet, and Pretty Much Everything Else Cool.” I mean, how could I not want to meet this illustrious sharbat after a title like that? It turns out that sharbat is a cooling drink made throughout the Middle East. It’s made by making a simple sugar syrup, adding vinegar, and infusing herbs or other flavors into it as it cools. You then pour the syrup into glasses with ice, top with cold water, and enjoy a sweet respite from the heat.
One of the guests on the podcast was Samin Nosrat, a chef that you may know from Netflix’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (a great adaptation of her book of the same name). She spoke about a favorite drink from her childhood, sekahnjebin. Samin’s parents are from Iran, and her mother made this version of sharbat for her often. This adaptation combines the power of mint with the cooling sensation of grated cucumber to create the ultimate treat to beat the heat.
While some people may be thrown off by the addition of vinegar, it’s not all that uncommon. Aside from the centuries-long history that drinking vinegars have in Middle Eastern culture, they are growing popular in alcohol-free circles of Western culture. A growing percentage of people do not drink alcohol for a variety of reasons, but don’t want to give up the art of a crafted drink. This is where syrups and shrubs – the English word for a drinking vinegar – come into play. Shrubs add flavor and bite to a drink, making it interesting to the palate but completely free of alcohol. So while we may think of vinegar as a cleaning agent or a wives’ tale medicinal substance, it’s not all that weird to consume it as part of a crafted drink.
Learning about the history of sharbat and sekahnjebin has been so interesting. I found out that for years it was considered a medicine (so maybe y’all aren’t wrong if you think of vinegar as medicinal…), and was used to treat everything from rosacea to low breast milk amounts. I don’t know about all that, but I guess this must be the tastiest medicine I’ve ever had! Aside from a drink and a medicine, sekahnjebin syrup has a third use: as an appetizer. A popular snack in Iran is lettuce leaves dipped in sekahnjebin syrup. The cool water from the lettuce, the chilled mint syrup, the little bite that you get from the vinegar… I can only imagine how refreshing that would be on a hot day!
Part of this cultural experiment includes trying new things. I’m beyond excited to see where my research into dishes of the world will take me. Sometimes, I may find something that’s as comfortable and familiar as what I have here in the United States. Sometimes, I may discover a dish that sounds completely unappealing to my Western palate. And sometimes, I hope I’ll find something in the middle – a little sweet, a little sharp, a little bit different that what I’m used to. I hope sekahnjebin was that for you, and if you choose to make it, I hope it shows you just how refreshing the flavors of the world can be.
Until next time, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living!
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
- .5 oz mint leaves (or more, to taste)
- 1 cucumber, divided in half
- In a small saucepan on the stove, bring the water and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the sugar is fully dissolved, add the vinegar and stir to combine fully. Allow the mixture to return to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and simmer until thickened, about 15-20 minutes.
- When the mixture has thickened to the point that it coats the back of a spoon, turn the stove off and take the pan off the heat. Add in the mint and cover, allowing the syrup to cool and infuse with the mint (this should take about 30 minutes). Discard the mint after use.
- To serve, take one half of the cucumber and grate a few tablespoons into each glass. Slice the other half thinly and set aside for garnish. Add ice and a few tablespoons of syrup (adjusting for personal taste as it can be sweet). Top each glass with cold water, and slices of cucumber. The sekahnjebin should be tart, sweet, and refreshing on a warm day!
- Inspiration for this recipe came from Food52.