It’s officially the first day of summer. And there was a time in my life, not so long ago (before a kid and a full-time job), that I would have had basil and maybe even watermelon popping up in my garden right about now. These days, I instead have a raised bed full of unidentified gargantuan weeds — thanks to the very expensive and fertile soil we had trucked in a couple years ago (“blessed be the fruit”) — and a tiny dent in my bank account every time I spend $4 on a package of not-so-fragrant basil wrapped in wasteful plastic. But I’m not going to let my shameful lifestyle choices stop me from making the most summery drink I can muster (even if a midwestern summer is my personal hell), so I present to you my watermelon-basil margarita.
Honestly, I probably shouldn’t even call it a margarita since it doesn’t have orange liqueur, and I use sugar instead of agave nectar to sweeten it, but thanks to Pinterest we’ve all gotten a little loosey goosey with the term, now haven’t we? Whatever you want to call it, this drink isn’t too far of from a previous take on the watermelon margarita, but it’s a tad sweeter, and a lot more basil-y, thanks to a basil simple syrup. Last year, during my Dirty30 (my own version of Whole30 that allows for straight, carb-free liquors), I made a super fresh watermelon margarita with no added sugars. But I wanted to work more basil into it this year, and I’m not doing anything even remotely healthy in my life right now (see aforementioned shameful lifestyle choices), so I made a basil syrup, which is just a simple syrup infused with basil.
In addition to the basil syrup, you’ll also need fresh watermelon juice, which is easy to make, too. One way is to blend watermelon and strain it through a fine mesh sieve. About 2½ cups of haphazardly chopped watermelon gave me a little more than 1½ cups juice. Another option is to just smush watermelon down into a sieve to get the juice out. It all works.
Basil Simple Syrup
To make the basil simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a boil then turn off the heat. Let it cool for about a minute, then add 1 cup of loosely packed basil leaves (some stems are fine, too). Let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes or until your house smells like sweet, sweet summertime. Strain using a fine mesh sieve and discard the basil, then set aside or refrigerate the syrup to cool. This will make about 1 cup and the extra will keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for at least two weeks.
3 ounces watermelon juice
1.5 ounces tequila
1.25 ounces basil syrup
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
Pinch sea salt
Fresh basil, for garnish
Add the watermelon juice, tequila, basil syrup, lime juice, and sea salt to a cocktail shaker or mason jar with a handful of ice. Shake well and strain into a Collins glass or tumbler filled halfway with ice. Garnish with the fresh basil and another pinch of sea salt if you’re feeling salty (which I am, all the damn time lately).
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