Mojitos are my favorite drink ever. I do not remember where or when I had my first one, but I do know that I fell in love with mojitos in Madrid, when Marianne, Becky, Laura and I all ordered them at some random bar we wandered into off the street. I usually drink wine or beer, but that night I wanted something a little different, and something about a mojito just seemed so continental and sophisticated. Not to mention that a well made mojito is just so perfect! It's sweet without being syrupy, and I love the squirt of acidic lime juice. Of course, there's also the mint leaves, which make the drink what it is— amazing.
Since that time, I've discovered that mojitos aren't all that easy to find outside of Cuban or Spanish establishments, and that their quality can really vary. (The best ones I've had were the blackberry mojito they used to serve at the otherwise unimpressive Sweet Emily's, and the super affordable $6 one at Esperanto). Nothing is more disappointing than a bad mojito, and there's so many things that can go wrong. It's all about balance: too much sugar, or not enough, or an excess of lime juice or rum can totally destroy a mojito. Because they're hard to find and so often butchered, I've always wanted to make my own.
When Nathan and I bought a huge bunch of mint for our first Master Meal several weeks ago, I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand at my favorite drink. Nathan promised to pick up the seltzer, so I only needed to grab the traditional white rum and limes. I ran to the liquor store at 6:00 on a Sunday, and was thrilled to find they were still open. I walked one block north, and found that the supermarket had just closed for the night, and there was not a lime in sight. You know its a great neighborhood when they'll sell you liquor but not bread on a Sunday evening. Every bodega I entered seemed to sell lemons, but nary a one had limes. Despairing, I headed back to Nathan's, where I had one final burst of inspiration. Hoping against hope, I tried the Harlem BBQ in Nathan's building, going up to the bar with my sob story, clutching my bottle of rum and begging for a lime or two. The female employee was sullen and skeptical, but one of the guys got me a little plastic cup and tossed in a handful or two of lime wedges. Success! I was ready to begin.
Now, I've had some tragically bad mojitos in my day, so I was anxious not to repeat the mistakes that have left me so devastated in the past, (I'm not joking: good mojitos are transcendent, and knowing how good they can be, I want to cry when they fall far short of my lofty expectations). In order to prevent a mojito disaster, I read a couple recipes, and was confident that with a little trial and error, I could properly recreate my favorite drink.
This first thing to do is to make a simple syrup from equal parts sugar and water, heated in a small sauce pan until the sugar dissolves. This takes like 30 seconds of stirring, but you can use regular sugar if you think it's easier. Then you'll have crunchy grains of sugar in your drink, but I actually kind of like that. Anyway. Pour a small amount of simple syrup into your glass and add a bunch of mint leaves. Use a muddler to bruise the mint leaves, releasing the mint oils. We have muddlers we got for free at a Yelp event, but the back of a spoon would work too. Don't be too rough or vigorous, or the mint will turn bitter. Next, squeeze in a wedge or two of lime, and fill the glass two thirds of the way with crushed ice. I tried the first time with big ice cubes, but crushed ice has more surface area and keeps your drink colder. Finally, top off your glass with club soda or seltzer, (or champagne or prosecco to be really fancy), and stir. You can also add an extra sprig of mint for garnish, gently rubbing it between your hands to release the minty scent and flavor.
What I discovered is that while finding a good balance between the rum, sugar and lime is not rocket science, it was difficult to replicate the same perfect blend when making multiple drinks. I used to have two shot glasses, but I threw out the hot pink plastic "girls night out" one when I moved, and the glass one I got at a Yelp event broke in transit. Nathan doesn't have shot glasses either, so I had to eyeball it. Of the three I made that first night, the first was too strong, (I gave that one to Nathan), the second was perfect (and I selfishly drank it myself), and the third was too sweet (and I valiantly struggled through it). I still had plenty of mint leftover, so I made them again the next night with Grace and Laura. This time I made a small pitcher's worth, so everybody's was equally balanced and delicious. Love!
I'll leave you with this fun list of mojito dos and don'ts, (who knew a drink could have so many rules?) and this rather sad photo of the mojito I made. Indoor lighting is a bitch.
it was tastier than it was pretty!