When I go north, I expect the weather to cool down — not unreasonable, right? So when Montreal flouted this expectation last month with an unseasonable flush of heat, I was not prepared. On one particularly warm afternoon I fled into a café, escaping the sun, my entire body prickly with heat and irritation.
As I brushed by one of the enormous open windows on my way in, the smell of basil and rosemary rose up to greet me. The windows of this café were overflowing with pots of herbs. I slid behind a small wood table and ordered something uncharacteristic, for me: Iced green tea. I think I was drawn to it by its name — they called it an "elixir," and when I took the first cold sip it was almost magical in its cooling power.
This chilled tea was spicy and fragrant with ginger, and it had a fruity, mysterious tang. It was the most delicious thing I had tasted in weeks. It was a potion for summer, a refreshing tonic against the heat. I had to have the recipe, and lucky for me and lucky for you, Dyan Solomon of Olive + Gourmando was willing to share. Ready to cool down with the best drink I've had all summer?
Montreal's Olive + Gourmando
Olive + Gourmando was universally mentioned to me by many kind sources (thank you Shayma, Aimee, and others!) who gave recommendations for my trip to Montreal. It's a charming cafe in the old part of town, with astonishingly good pastries and an inspired menu for breakfast and lunch. It also happened to be just steps away from my hotel, so I went there at least three times in my short trip. It was packed with people all the time, standing in line for the scrumptious baked goods or the seasonal salads.
I emailed Dyan Solomon, one of the owners of Olive + Gourmando, to see if she would be willing to share the recipe for the iced tea, and we ended up having a few pleasant chats over email about the cafe and the way that Montreal inspires the food there. Here are a few questions I asked her:
1. How do the local foods and markets of Montreal inspire the café's menu?
We are very inspired by local foods at Olive. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning my partner Eric Girard goes to Marche Central to buy all of our fruits and vegetables. This is extremely rare in the restaurant business. Most chefs/restaurant owners deal with large vegetable wholesalers. We choose everything ourselves. It means working twice as hard but we feel the result is really worth it, and we save a lot of money in the process.
We always feature what is seasonal at Olive. For example: Asparagus Sandwich from Quebec, Strawberry Shortcake, Rhubarb & Strawberry Ginger Muffins, Lobster Catch Sandwich. Soon we will feature tomatoes in EVERYTHING, and wild blueberries from Lac St. Jean will appear in salads, fruit plates and brioches! It's obviously easy in the summer; winter really presents its challenges in Quebec.
2. Where else do you find inspiration for your recipes? Books? Other chefs?
Eric [Girard, Dyan's partner] and I travel A LOT, and I think this is our greatest source of inspiration. New York is one of our favourite places to go to eat/look/spy in the whole wide world!
We also have a seriously impressive cookbook collection and have subscriptions to at least 10 major food magazines. We eat out constantly and keep company with many talented cooks. Our staff in the kitchen at Olive (particularly our Chef Vanessa Laberge) are also a constant source of inspiration. Vanessa and her partner Marc-Andre Cyr (our sous-chef) are wonderful cooks and we have many collaborative meetings together, in which some of Olive's best recipes have come to exist.
3. I love the lavish herb boxes in your café windows. What are your favorite herbs and other flavors during this part of the summer?
We love the lavish herb boxes as well! We are so lucky to have such fantastic windows at Olive. Eric and I love flowers but have always felt that herbs represent Olive more. Most of our dishes are brimming with fresh herbs. I would say that this is one of the defining features of "Olive's cuisine." You will NEVER eat a salad at Olive that doesn't have at least two fresh herbs in it. We like to use herbs as a prime ingredient, not just a flavour enhancer.
Favourite herbs? Most likely cilantro, basil and tarragon. Lots of cilantro at Olive! We spend a lot of time in Mexico — one of our favourite countries to go and eat (not touristy stuff, the real deal). Can't get enough of the amazing balance between acidic, spicy, sweet and fat — always with the taste of fresh, raw veggies thrown in for crunch and that lively taste. Yummy.
Magical iced tea elixir
When I asked Dyan about this iced tea, she said, "I invented this when I was a young chef working in Boston! I used to make it for all the cooks who worked on the line after a long, hard night. So refreshing and unusual tasting." She also said that this recipe has been one of Olive + Gourmando's guarded recipes! I was the first person she had agreed to share the recipe with — isn't that so nice of her — lucky me!
Now, one last note before I turn this recipe over to you. This recipe will take a couple days to prepare (just to warn you!) so I made sure the batch size was large. This makes about 3 quarts. You need to make a ginger syrup first (it's the best, spiciest ginger syrup I've ever made — I've finally found the gingery flavor I crave!). That steeps all night in the fridge. Then, the next day you mix up the tea and let it sit all night again. You can drink it right away, but it is nicer after it chills all night.
It tastes a little fruity and sweet — but not at all cloying. The flavor of this tea is perfectly balanced. Gingery spice that lingers and warms the throat, fresh tannins of green tea, bright lemon and... a secret ingredient that adds fruity, sour notes: Pomegranate syrup.
Yes, you will need pomegranate syrup (also known as pomegranate molasses) for this recipe. Here's a little more on pomegranate molasses — it is easily found at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets. I really love it; it is a wonderful ingredient to have on hand for syrups, marinades, and drinks; its concentrated flavor is a powerful asset in the kitchen.
Make sure, though, to buy pomegranate syrup without any added sugar or sweeteners. It should just be concentrated pomegranate juice, boiled down to syrup. Again, this should be easy to find; my local Mediterranean market had three or four brands to choose from.
Iced Green Tea Elixir with Ginger & Lemon
1/4 ounce good quality Chinese green tea leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1/4 cup pomegranate syrup or pomegranate molasses, without any added sweeteners
3/4 cup ginger syrup, recipe below
Mint, to garnish
Lemon slices, to garnish
Pomegranate seeds, to garnish
Place the tea leaves in a large bowl. Heat 3 1/2 cups of water to about 170°F. (Or bring to a boil, then let cool for 5 minutes.) Pour the hot water over the green tea leaves and steep the tea for 5 minutes. Strain the tea, keeping the liquid and discarding the leaves.
Stir in the lemon juice, pomegranate syrup and ginger syrup. Add 8 cups of cold water. Stir. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Serve over ice with a lemon slice and fresh pomegranate seeds, or a handful of muddled mint.
1/2 pound fresh ginger root, skin on
3 cups white sugar
2 cups water
Cut the ginger into knuckle-sized pieces. Buzz the ginger in a food processor or chopper until it is fine and stringy, like rough wood chips.
Add the sugar and water to a large saucepan and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil and lower the heat. Simmer just until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the chopped ginger. Let the pot cool on the stove, then put it in the fridge to steep overnight.
The next day, strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve at least twice, to remove the finer bits of ginger. Discard the ginger. Pour the syrup into a bottle or closed container and refrigerate. This syrup will keep for several weeks at least, as long as it is refrigerated.
Optional: Try this tea in a bourbon cocktail — incredibly good. Shake up 1 ounce bourbon with 4 ounces iced tea and a handful of mint. Strain and serve over ice with lemon.
• Visit Olive + Gourmando: Olive + Gourmando's website
(Images: Faith Durand; Olive + Gourmando)