Hot lemon, ginger and chilli drink for when you’ve got the lurg

I’ve just got back from holiday (more on which later), hence the lack of blog posts over the last week or so. For most of our time away, Owen and I had rotten colds which are still refusing to budge. So, one of the first things I did when we got home was to make a batch of this drink in the hope it’ll sort us out.

I’ve been making this for years and the recipe has gradually evolved over time (not that it’s terribly complicated). I can’t make any scientific claims to this potion’s medicinal properties, but it always seems to help clear my chest, throat and head and make me feel better. I automatically make it every time I’ve got a cold- it’s especially helpful in getting me through work (transported in a Thermos) when I’m feeling snuffly. Imagine, if you will, me sitting at my desk, surrounded by a fug of lemon and ginger aroma and a scattering of snotty tissues, while my colleagues look on with disgust as I cough and splutter my way through the day. Sexy.

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 lemons
  • A medium sized hand of root ginger
  • 2 red chillies
  • A stick of cinnamon
  • A few star anise
  • Sugar (white, brown, whatever)
  • Manuka honey

Start with a big pot. A stock pot of some sort would be ideal- I use a big oval cast iron one. You’ll need to put lots of water in this. I have two fridge jugs- one big, one small, that I fill with water and pour in, as then I know the mixture will be the right amount to fill them and store in the fridge. If you need an exact amount, this is about three litres, but you can make slightly more or less according to your own fridge storage receptacles.

Once you’ve got the water in the pot, put it on to boil while you zest the lemons. Add the zest to the water, then cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice straight into the pot. Then chop the remaining lemon bits up a bit more and throw those in the pot as well.

Next, grate the ginger and add to the pot. I don’t bother peeling the ginger for this, as it’s all going to be sieved at the end anyway.

Halve and de-seed the chillies and add those to the mixture. I tried this without de-seeding once and it found the heat a bit too overpowering, but leave the seeds in if that’s your thing.

Break up the cinnamon stick and chuck that in along with the star anise. Once everything’s boiling nicely, give it a good stir, put the lid on (if you have one), turn the heat down and simmer for a while. There isn’t an exact timing to this- I usually just leave it there while I get on with other stuff, like washing up all the bits from its preparation. When it’s been simmered for a while, add some sugar until the edge is taken off the sharp sourness, but it isn’t too sweet (as you’re going to add honey later).

When it’s cooled, sieve the mixture (I usually do this in batches into a large Pyrex jug) and decant into your chosen jugs/ bottles to be stored in the fridge. When you want to drink it, heat up enough in a pan or microwave to fill a mug, and stir in some manuka honey to sweeten. As manuka honey is ridiculously expensive, I sometimes use eucalyptus honey instead if I’m feeling skint. Any other honey would also be just as nice, I’m sure.

Preserved lemons

I’ve never actually bought ready-preserved lemons, as I decided to try making them myself once and realised how easy it was. Whenever I’m running low, I just do another jar of them so that they’re ready by the time I get round to needing them.

I usually either use these in tagines or chopped up into ‘grainy’ salads (for example those involving bulgar wheat, cous cous or pearl barley). They have a lovely salty, tangy taste.

To prepare them once they’re preserved, scrape the flesh from the peel with a teaspoon and discard. Rinse the peel thoroughly before chopping and adding to your chosen dish.

Ingredients

  • Unwaxed lemons
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Bay leaves
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Mixed peppercorns

Start by choosing your jars. It’s best to use jars with no metal in the lids or attachments as the salt water will corrode them. Kilner-type jars are therefore not a good idea (trust me on this one- I preserved lemons in a Kilner jar once and the salt water residue corroded the metal lever closure until it just pinged off in the fridge one day). You want the jars to be large-ish, but also small enough to comfortably fit in your fridge as you’ll need to keep the lemons in there once you open them. I usually use 100g size coffee jars with plastic lids.

Sterilize one or two of your chosen jars, using your preferred method. (This article gives more details on sterilizing stuff.) Meanwhile, fill a large jug with boiling water and leave to cool. Tip a reasonable amount of sea salt into a bowl.

Once you’ve got your nice, hot, sterilized jar(s) and your boiled and cooled water, it’s basically just an assembly job:

Cut your lemons in half lengthways, then almost quarter them lengthways but leave them attached at the bottom. Open the cut in the halved lemon and generously pack it with sea salt. Sprinkle some sea salt in the bottom of the jar, then add your halved lemon, squishing it down into the jar. Repeat this process, packing the halved lemons tightly down into the jar and adding bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns and more sea salt in among the lemons. If your jar’s a bit bigger, you can leave the lemons whole and cut a cross lengthways almost to the base, packing the lemons with salt as before. Try to squeeze as many lemons into your jar as you can.

Once your jar is full to the top, sprinkle on some more sea salt and pour the boiled and cooled water into the jar right to the top. Cover with cellophane and a rubber band and then screw the lid on tightly. Invert the jar a few times to distribute the salt and leave in a cool, dry cupboard for at least a few weeks before eating. Invert the jar every now and again to re-distribute the salt. Once opened, keep in the fridge.