Need a wintertime pick-me-up? Let me suggest this dazzling concoction: a bright and sunny soda featuring freshly muddled kumquats and pink peppercorn syrup.
Making soda is a fun way to play with seasonal ingredients, and here in my Los Angeles neighborhood, this drink is entirely of the moment. This is the time of year when gardens and markets pop with the color of ripe kumquats. While these citrus fruits may be small, they pack vivid flavor. Their sweet, edible peel encases tart flesh, which can be quite intense by itself but is just right in a spritzer with simple syrup and fizzy water.
To bring an element of warmth, I infuse the simple syrup with pink peppercorns plucked from the branches of nearby Brazilian peppertrees. When dried, the berries have pretty, papery skins and a fruity bite. Find pink peppercorns in the spice aisle or online at Spice Station if you don't have a local tree.
In combination, kumquats and pink peppercorns make an exceptionally refreshing soda – not overly sweet, and tangy with a trace of heat. I keep the syrup in a bottle in the refrigerator and slice a couple of kumquats to make individual drinks as the mood strikes. To serve a crowd, the ingredients could be mixed all at once in a pitcher.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons dried pink peppercorns, lightly crushed
About 24 kumquats, sliced into rounds and seeded
About 3 liters soda water
Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugars.
Stir in pink peppercorns, remove from heat, and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain syrup through a fine-mesh strainer and reserve pink peppercorns for garnish. Let syrup cool completely.
For each drink, muddle 12 kumquat slices and 2 tablespoons of syrup in an 8-ounce glass. Add ice cubes if desired, then fill glass with soda water and stir. Garnish with a few pink peppercorns.
(Images: Emily Ho)