Genius Recipes

Louisa Shafia's Watermelon, Mint, and Cider Vinegar Tonic

By • July 3, 2013 • 48 Comments

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The most refreshing drink for your sunny picnics and barbecues doesn't have alcohol or sugar -- just vinegar, of course.

"You have to get the crispy pig face and the drinking vinegar." This could be a cruel sorority hazing rite, but it's just the start of a nice dinner out in 2013.

Like compost cookies or Cronuts, drinking vinegars are one of those sweeping trends that seems to be fueled by how unpleasant they sound (their other name, shrubs, isn't much more inviting). 

But even if drinking vinegar sounds like a dare -- and maybe that's why you ordered it -- it's anything but. It's sweet and sour and icy-cold. It vibrates and clangs with fruit and vinegar, and soothes with sweetness and mint. It is the most refreshing drink you will have this summer.

And it's not even new, really.

It's age-old in lots of places -- a means of preserving fruit in pickled, drinkable form as much as a way to cool off. In Iran, sekanjabin is the sweet, vinegary base to a cooling tonic, as well as a dip for cold romaine lettuce leaves -- drink and salad dressing in one.

In The New Persian Kitchen, Louisa Shafia takes the traditional drink -- which is often made with white vinegar and sugar -- and puts her trademark modern, ingredient-focused stamp on it.

 

More: Try Louisa's Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds.

Here's how to make it like Shafia does: Make a hot honey syrup (that's honey, water, and a little salt), then pour it over chopped watermelon and a packed cup of mint leaves.

   

Let that cool off, stir in some cider vinegar, then let it all hang out for a few hours or more.

 

When you're ready, strain to get your concentrate, dilute with water to taste (sparkling or still), gulp. A bonus: you get to eat the pickled watermelon (if desired).

Shrub Strain  Strained Shrub

And this is just the beginning. "Try adding a few slices of ginger, fresh rose petals, or a stalk of crushed lemongrass." Shafia wrote to me. "Instead of watermelon, try cherries (including sour!), or sliced apricots, peaches, plums, or grapes."

While there's only so much lemonade you can drink in the hot sun before the sugar starts to go to your head -- and boozy drinks pose a similar, sloppier problem -- this is an elixir you could drink all day.

And because it's a grown-up drink without alcohol, you can take it on a picnic, at any park, without having to look side-eyed at cops that might pass by. You can stare them straight in the face and tell them what you're drinking: vinegar.

Louisa Shafia's Watermelon, Mint, and Cider Vinegar Tonic

From The New Persian Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2013)

Makes 5 cups concentrate 

3 cups water, plus more to serve
1/4 teaspoon sea salt 
1 cup good-quality honey
6 cups coarsely chopped watermelon 
1 cup tightly packed fresh spearmint 
1 cup cider vinegar
Ice cubes

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Want to come cook Genius Recipes with me? Take my class at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, Sunday, July 28th, 6 to 10 pm! Sign up here.

Photos by James Ransom 

Jump to Comments (48)

Tags: Genius Recipes, Genius, drinking vinegar, Louisa Shafia, Watermelon, Mint, Persian recipes, The New Persian Kitchen, Summer Drinks

Comments (48)

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9 months ago rob weaver

a couple times a month i mix up a table spoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of Braggs vinegar and a quarter cup cool water as a quick, tasty beverage. i will definitely be making this Tonic this summer

Stringio

over 1 year ago Beth Gerrish Renzetti

I followed the recipe and have been making double batches weekly since! I don't dilute the concentrate as much s recommended. I like it closer to 50/50. Heck, I like it straight up! And my daughter loves the watermelon pickles!

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over 1 year ago EM-MV

I've made this several times and have found it very popular, especially the watermelon "pickles." The tonic, with a splash of sparkling water, I find to be very refreshing, especially after too much to drink the night before!

Stringio

over 1 year ago Beth Gerrish Renzetti

Any reason not to just puree the whole thing instead of straining the fruit out?

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over 1 year ago I_Fortuna

Yes. If you use a food mill, it will remove the seeds and some of the pulp resulting in a nice semi-clear liquid. If you use a blender and the seeds are not completely pureed then they turn into little stickers catching in one's throat and the pulp from the fruit makes the drink thick and not clear and lovely as it is pictured here. Also, if this many mint leaves are pureed with the rest of the ingredients, the flavor may be unpleasantly minty. The leaves of the mint done in this way are meant to give a hint of mint and not a barrage. If using a juicer, I would use less mint leaves and this might be a great way to go as well as the method described here. And, I don't think the vinegar addition would allow for a sorbet to be made. But, anything is possible. Leave the pulp in and see how you like it. : )

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over 1 year ago smonfor

Tried this today and was impressed - very nice and refreshing. used another commenter's suggestion to serve up the fruit remains as a salad. I didn't have any mint, so I used lemon basil. I also had a few pie cherries sitting on their lonesome and threw them in too. Everyone enjoyed it. And SO easy to make!

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over 1 year ago Paula Arevalos

So cider vinegar is apple cider vinegar?

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over 1 year ago Paula Arevalos

Spearmint or Mint? Or either? Sorry so anal, I'm trying to keep from just eating the watermelon as it is.;-)

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

We used spearmint, which is commonly labelled as mint at the grocery store. And yes, cider vinegar is apple cider vinegar!

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over 1 year ago SusanR

I made this last weekend. It is fantastic! Everyone loved it. I did find that for the ones I made with sparkling water, I had to add more of the base. Also, I put about a tablespoon of the watermelon in the bottom of the cup. Truth be told, the watermelon on its own after it was strained was crazy delicious! Making it for another party this weekend. Oh, and one more thing... a shot of vodka doesn't hurt! :)

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over 1 year ago SusanR

OH! One more thing. A "foodie" friend at the party said that a vinegar-based drink is called a "shrub." Learn something new every day! Cheers!

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over 1 year ago Susan E. Levy

I eliminate the added sugar to the watermelon icicle treats --just straight watermelon. The grandkids thought it was a big deal to be able to have them even before breakfast! Just straight watermelon.

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over 1 year ago Trevor

@lotus: I used a brand new bottle of Heinz apple cider vinegar, a new jar of local honey, a farmers market watermelon and fresh mint from the garden.

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over 1 year ago _lotus

Hmm. Maybe I used more fruit in mine (didn't really measure it - used one of those "individual" sized melons). Could be, as you said, differing tastes.

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

We made this recipe as written (and a number of other commenters have too) and didn't find the vinegar overpowering -- we used Spectrum organic unpasteurized cider vinegar. It could be different tastes, or maybe the Heinz style of cider vinegar is to blame.

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over 1 year ago _lotus

I used the Heinz cider vinegar and mine turned out fine.

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Good to know!

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over 1 year ago _lotus

I made it for a picnic on the fourth and it was a hit. It was great making people guess what the "secret ingredient" was and see their shock when it was cider vinegar. I also used a mint-infused honey that I'd purchased at a local farmer's market. The vinegar was not overpowering in mine; wonder if the quality of cider vinegar used in other's attempts resulted in a bad one?

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over 1 year ago Christine Mc.

This looks so good!! We've done different kinds of "agua frescas" with cucumber and watermelon but this looks so much more interesting. Also, the only time I ever drink hot tea is when I don't feel well and it always has honey and cider vinegar in it.

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over 1 year ago Trevor

I just made the watermelon, mint and vinegar tonic and cannot say how vile it was. It was overwhelmingly vinegary and undrinkable. What a waste of ingredients.

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

I'm sorry, and surprised, to hear that -- did you dilute it with water and ice, as described in step 4?

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over 1 year ago Trevor

Hi Kristen,
I did dilute it as per the directions and the vinegar was very pronounced over the other flavors, especially the mint, which came straight from the garden, so I assumed that the flavor would be strong enough. After we tried the diluted version, we tried it with less water and even added more sugar. We tried to doctor it up, but it just tastes like fruit that had had "turned". Maybe the Persian flavor profile was just too new to my palate. I would try this again without the vinegar for a purer fruit flavor.

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over 1 year ago Sherry

I too found the vinegar in this drink off-putting. In fact a half glass of this, diluted and over ice, made me a bit nauseous.

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over 1 year ago Judith Roud

This recipe and all the comments remind me of a gussied up switchel...

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over 1 year ago Cdnchef

you could use Aguave, coconut syrup or fruit source, All vegan and low on the glycemic numbers so great all around. just taste it, they all have different sweetness levels, Brown rice syrup is still around too

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over 1 year ago Elizabeth Hunter

I just made a shrub using hibiscus flowers, it is so pretty.

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over 1 year ago dvc

Also disappointed in the discovery of honey in this recipe. By any chance, do you know how it tastes without it? Thanks.

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

You could try it, decreasing the vinegar to taste and maybe increasing the watermelon. But it's nicely balanced and not too sweet as written, once the concentrate is diluted.

Stringio

over 1 year ago Sherri Gordon Garner

I am going to use fig vinegar.

Stringio

over 1 year ago Emma Jade

I'm sorry but honey is just as bad as sugar "no sugar" is a total fallacy!

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over 1 year ago Teena

But raw honey has many benefits that sugar do not have.

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I'm thinking mulberry vinegar would be especially nice with the mint. And I'll be using much less honey than called for. (A cup? That's moving it into dessert land.) ;o)