Sunday, June 23, 2013
THE POETRY OF SUMMER - A HONEY AND VINEGAR SYRUP DRINK - SHARBATEH SEKANJEBIN
We had a deep, cushy, cream-colored loveseat in our living room. Back in Iran. That's how I remember it.
I was six years old. Luna's age. And I was notorious for giving my parents a hard time with going to bed. So - many late nights were spent curled up on that love seat, eyelids heavy with sleep - desperately trying to keep awake - not to miss a moment - and inevitably lulled into a sweet slumber by the entrancing sounds of the santur, tar, and violin - and the magical rhymes and rhythms of poetry. Always poetry. My childhood lullaby.
My mother is a poet and lyricist. Not of the "remember when we thought we were so cool, so bohemian, so hip, writing poetry and wearing all black" variety. But as in this was and still is her vocation - well, as close as being a poet can be considered a vocation. Of course for me and my brother she was and is, maman, who happens to be a poet. Who walked around the house (and still does) murmuring to herself. Filling notebooks with dreamlike verse. Staying up until the sun starts to show its face to finish that one hook, that lone melody, that last stanza. And so it was very much the norm to have our house filled with musicians, singers, fellow poets, and lovers of all of the above. There is a deep-seated love and respect for poetry and music amongst Persians. Very formal dinner parties would inevitably end up with everyone sitting in the round. Something of a jam session. See where inspiration would take them. Instruments tuned and voices warmed by the sweet, tangy honey and vinegar sharbat - syrup - sekanjebin.
Sekanjebin literally means vinegar and honey. It is the ultimate summer drink. The Persian version of lemonade. The refreshing combination of sweet and sour. It is a centuries old concoction - considered medicinal in its combination of honey, vinegar, mint and cucumber to hydrate, restore balance in the body, and aid with digestion. If it's summer - there's sekanjebin. It will cool your soul. It will sweeten your tongue and quench your thirst. It will bring you back to life. Yes - this will cure you whispers abound. Like all sharbat - a concentrated syrup is prepared and then diluted with water to taste. Sekanjebin can also be prepared with sugar but I much prefer the use of honey - as it was originally intended to be. I recommend using the best quality honey and a good quality white wine vinegar. Traditionally sekanjebin is served with grated cucumber. But you can also use sliced cucumber. Feel free to try out other refreshing summer fruits - such as lemon or lime slices, watermelon pieces, cut strawberries - as a garnish as well. In the summertime it is also very popular and refreshing to put out a bowl of the syrup and dip crisp Romaine leaves in it. We recently hosted a Father's Day brunch with a few dear friends where I served a pitcher of sekanjebin. It was an absolute hit with adults and children alike.
When we left Iran for Rome - our home away from home - with the future unknown - unaware that we would never set eyes on that land again - never get to say proper goodbyes to so many loved ones - unaware that very soon we would also bid adieu to our beloved Rome - we found comfort in the company of fellow expats. Each family with their own story of loss and an unknown future. Different and yet the same. I missed the familiar comfort of that big cream-colored loveseat. Yet even in those most trying of days - laughter, togetherness and poetry still filled the air. As everyone would inevitably end up gathering on the balconies. Cushions and rugs spread on the floor. Instruments pulled out of their cases and tuned. The haunting melodies of the santoor yearningly bouncing off the rooftops of the eternal city. The Roman summer night in its full splendor. And once again voices warmed and bodies cooled by sekanjebin. And of course, there was poetry. Always poetry. That's how I remember it.
VINEGAR AND HONEY SYRUP - SHARBATEH SEKANJEBIN
Makes 1 cup syrup concentrate
1 cup water, plus more to dilute and serve
1 cup honey, really good-quality
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon good-quality white wine vinegar
2 sprigs mint, plus more for garnish
sliced cucumber for garnish
1- Bring honey and water to a boil in a medium saucepan to make a simple syrup. Stir to dissolve. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
2- Add vinegar and bring back to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.
3- Remove from the heat, add mint sprigs and transfer to a glass bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature. Cover bowl and let mixture steep overnight in the refrigerator.
4- Remove mint sprigs. You can keep the syrup concentrate in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
To serve mix 1 part syrup concentrate to 3 parts water. For an individual glass serving I mixed 1/4 cup syrup with 3/4 cups water. Adjust to taste. Serve over ice and garnish with sliced cucumber and mint.