One of my dearest friends has a milestone birthday this weekend. Friends are flying in from all over the country to help her celebrate at a swanky estate she’s rented in Carmel Valley. I’ve offered to cook one of the dinners and in consultation with the birthday girl, a Vietnamese menu was chosen (several of us were in Vietnam recently with Wine Knows). To kick off the evening I decided to concoct a Vietnam-inspired cocktail to honor her.
Red is a sacred color in the Vietnamese culture---their symbol of luck, happiness, celebration, and love (it’s no surprise why the flag of Vietnam is red). Hence, when creating a recipe for the aperitif, summer's luscious watermelon immediately came to mind. The birthday girl loves Aperol, so I decided to incorporate this vibrant orange-red aperitif into the cocktail to intensify the watermelon color. She also adores bubbly drinks as well as Rosé, thus I elected to combine both in the form of a sparkling Rosé.
Ginger and lemongrass are classical flavors found in Vietnamese cooking. To get these flavors well incorporated, I decided to infuse vodka with ginger and lemon grass. Concerned about the drink's alcohol content (especially in the heat of summer), I chose to offset it by adding some sparkling water to the drink.
Here’s the aperitif which I named “Carolini” in honor of the birthday girl, Carolina.
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced ginger (more for decoration)
- 3 stalks of crushed lemongrass---white part only (use tops for decoration)
- 1 cup of good quality vodka
- 5 cups of ripe, seeded watermelon
- 1 cup of Aperol
- 1/2 bottle of sparkling Rosé
1. One week in advance, place ginger and lemongrass in a clean glass jar. Pour over vodka. Seal and store for a week. Strain before using.
2. Place watermelon in a food processor until it is liquefied. Strain and discard any solids.
3. Make sure all ingredients are well chilled on the day of serving.
4. A few hours prior to serving pour all (with the exception of the Rosé and water) into a large pitcher.
5. Just prior to serving, add the bottle of sparkling Rose and stir.
6. Decorate with shaved ginger, or a stalk of lemon grass, and/or mint with a slice of watermelon (serve in either a martini glass or high-ball glass filled with ice).
(Serves 10 thirsty women.)