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KitchenWise: Recipes for easy ginger, vanilla and lemon summer soda syrups

05/21/2015 01:19 EDT | Updated 05/21/2016 05:59 EDT
Have you ever noticed how tough it is to sweeten your favourite iced beverage using regular granulated white sugar? You can stir and stir, but the sugar tends not to dissolve and you're left with a barely sweetened drink. That is, until you reach the bottom of the glass, when you're smacked with a sugar rush.

It's a vexing little problem, but one with a simple solution. And that simple solution is called simple syrup. Every bartender keeps a ready supply of it on his or her side of the bar.

As advertised, simple syrup is simple — just equal parts (by volume) water and sugar that are combined, heated until the sugar melts, then chilled. Unlike granulated sugar, simple syrup dissolves easily in cold liquids. And it's not as if it works its magic only in alcoholic concoctions. It's also the perfect sweetener for iced tea, iced coffee and homemade lemonade. You may decide to keep some in your refrigerator all summer long.

And happily, it's a short step from simple syrup to any number of flavoured syrups, starting with ginger syrup, vanilla syrup and lemon syrup. Any of these potions will add a tasty twist to your favourite chilled beverage.

Ginger syrup is made with fresh ginger. To ensure the biggest flavour, buy the freshest, firmest ginger you can find. You'll save prep time if you don't peel the ginger before you chop it, but the chopped ginger will need to simmer in the syrup for about an hour to create a strong, concentrated ginger taste. After you've strained and cooled the ginger syrup, add as much of it as you want — about 2 to 4 tablespoons — to a cup of chilled seltzer water or club soda. Voila! You've just made your own fresh ginger ale. And don't be surprised if it puts the store-bought stuff to shame. Just note that ginger syrup will separate in the fridge; shake it before serving.

Vanilla syrup is made by combining two split vanilla beans with the syrup ingredients, bringing it to a boil, then letting it steep until cool. If an inquiring guest wonders about the flecks floating in his drink, simply explain that those are vanilla seeds from a vanilla bean. It's all good!

Lemon syrup is made with lemon zest and a little bit of lemon juice. If you prefer, you could substitute lime zest and juice or grapefruit zest and juice.

All of these syrups will refresh a soda or enhance iced tea or lemonade. Just add 2 to 4 tablespoons of syrup to each cup of liquid. Or put on your bartender hat and jazz up those summer cocktails with the addition of some homemade flavoured syrups.

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SIMPLE SYRUP

Start to finish: 10 minutes, plus cooling

Makes 1 1/3 cups

1 cup sugar

1 cup cold water

In a small saucepan over medium, combine the sugar and water. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring often. When the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool. Transfer the simple syrup to a container and chill for up to a month.

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GINGER SYRUP

Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours

Makes 3/4 cup

1 cup coarsely chopped, well-scrubbed fresh ginger (about 4 1/2 ounces)

1 cup sugar

3 cups cold water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a blender or food processor, process the ginger until it is finely chopped. In a large saucepan over medium, combine the ginger, sugar and water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook gently until the mixture is reduced to 2 cups, about 1 hour. Strain through a mesh strainer, pressing hard on the ginger to extract all the syrup. Discard the ginger. Stir in the lemon juice, transfer the mixture to a container and chill for up to a week. Shake before using.

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VANILLA SYRUP

Start to finish: 10 minutes, plus cooling

Makes 1 1/3 cups

1 cup sugar

2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise

1 cup cold water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

In a small saucepan over medium, combine the sugar, the vanilla beans and water. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring often. When the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pods into the syrup using the tip of a knife. Stir in the lemon juice, then transfer the vanilla syrup to a container and chill for up to 2 weeks.

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LEMON SYRUP

Start to finish: 10 minutes, plus cooling

Makes 1 1/3 cups

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons lemon zest (from about 2 medium lemons)

1 cup cold water

2 teaspoons fresh lime or lemon juice

In a small saucepan over medium, combine the sugar, the zest and water. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring often. When the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool. Strain the syrup through a fine strainer, pressing on the zest to extract as much syrup as possible. Stir in the lemon juice, transfer the syrup to a container and chill for up to 2 weeks.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."

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