Even if I love being a culinary adventurer, at the end of the day, I have to identify myself as a Northeastern Yankee through and through. (Growing up in New Hampshire only gives me so much street cred outside of New England.)
As much as I’ve come to love the South, Southwest, and all types of international cookery, I’m humble enough to admit when I don’t know a lot about another part of the world – or, more importantly for this blog, that area’s food and drink-stuffs. Which is why I’ve made it such a point to learn about the food of each place where I’ve traveled — to try things, learn how dishes are made, and understand how deeply food ties to the culture. My travels are tastier, and I feel like I’m showing a place the respect it deserves by honoring its cuisine. (Y’know, via my taste buds.)
Among the many, MANY delicious Southern bites and sips I had while in Charleston, one I’d never really tried before was authentic Southern-style Sweet Tea. That killer sweetness cuts through the brewed tea beautifully, all due – as I’ve come to find through a bit of research – to simple syrup, rather than just sugar.
Turns out that simple syrup is easy enough to whip up – combine equal parts sugar and water, and allow the mixture to cook over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Voila, simple syrup for your tea or other recipes.
But I decided to kick this up a notch with two of my favorite flavors, lemon and basil. Some quick concocting over the stove, and behold: Lemon-Basil Sweet Tea. This recipe should serve 8 full glasses, or a number of refills if you’re using smaller tumblers. (I also have tips below for how to add a grown-up kick to the recipe.) Drink up, fellow faux-Southern ladies and gentlemen.
Lemon-Basil Sweet Tea – serves 8
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp dried basil
- ½ lemon, sliced into ¼-inch thick slices. (Save the rest for all sorts of recipes)
- 2 cold-brew bags of Lipton iced tea
- A large pitcher
- 7 cups cold water, plus ice (for brewing)
Here’s what you do:
- Mix together the white sugar and water in a saucepan or small pot. Raise the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture, stirring regularly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is just bubbling.
- Whisk in dried basil. Add lemon slices and cook for 1 minute more, flipping the slices after 30 seconds. Set the syrup aside to cool. Remove the lemon slices and set them aside; you can add them to the tea mixture just before serving.
- As the syrup is cooling, make your cold brew in a large pitcher according to package directions; you may want to use slightly less water (7 cups, rather than 8) while adding about ½ a tray’s worth of ice cubes. (Lipton teas usually take 5 minutes of cold brewing with 2 cold brew bags.) Remove tea bags and discard when finished.
- When the lemon-basil syrup has cooled, slowly pour and mix it into the tea, according to taste. You can also leave the syrup separate to use for future tea brews, as well as a lovely topping for sliced fruit (particularly strawberries and blueberries). It should keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
If you’d like to add a grown-up twist to your tea, try the following mix-ins:
- Add a shot of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka or Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon to your glass; mix thoroughly.
- Add a shot of honey liqueur (use less syrup with this one), such as Barenjager, to your glass and mix thoroughly.
- Add a shot of any other lemon-flavored liqueur to your glass for something of a big kid Arnold Palmer; Absolut Citron, a shot of Limoncello or even a dash of Mike’s Hard Lemonade might work well. Keep experimenting!
What are your favorite Southern dishes? Are you a sweet tea person, darlin’? Or do you like yours sweetener-free?