There’s a beauty to a dry vodka martini. After all, it’s a drink worthy of James Bond. But there isn’t a mixologist on the planet today who doesn’t rely on a variety of flavor-packed liqueurs to create a host of wild and wonderful cocktails.
The reason is simple. Liqueurs are essentially food based. They start out with a spirit (usually brandy, rum, whiskey or another liquor) and from there add ingredients like fruit, herbs, flowers, nuts, leaves and even bark. While delicious on their own, liqueurs pair perfectly with fruit juices and other beverages to make a seemingly endless number of specialty cocktails.
Traditionally, people drank liqueurs as a digestive after dinner, but today we drink them anytime—before, during or after a meal. Just beware, that delightful sweetness doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lightweight. Most liqueurs have alcohol content between 15 to 30 percent, but there are notable exceptions. Green chartreuse, which gets its color and spicy mint flavor from chlorophyll, weighs in at a boozy 55 percent.
Whether you’re in the mood for ripe berries or elderflowers, there’s a liqueur for you. Check out a few of my favorites and get creative.
Amaretto di Saronno
Need to know: The original Amaretto di Saronno is made in Italy. Premium amaretto uses quality almonds, essential oils and extracts; cheaper labels slip in artificial ingredients and may substitute the kernels of apricot pits for the almonds.
Try it with: over strawberries
Flavor: black raspberry
Need to know: Chambord hails from the Loire Valley in France, where the red and black raspberries are infused with cognac, Madagascar vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey and herbs.
Try it with: vodka and pineapple juice
Need to know: Cointreau has been made by the Cointreau family in France since the mid-nineteenth century. Its orange flavor is the result of two types of orange peels—sour oranges from Curacao and sweet Spanish oranges.
Try it with: tequila, elderflower liqueur or lime
Crème de menthe, Crème de cacao, Crème de …
Flavor: mint, chocolate, anything you can imagine from apricots to pineapples, rose petals to violets and cherries
Need to know: Crème liqueurs are not the same as cream liqueurs, which are flavored mixtures that have been blended with cream (think Baileys).
Try it with: The world is your oyster here. Crème de menthe is a natural with chocolate; crème de cacao makes an amazing espresso martini.
Need to know: Frangelico is a secret recipe made with hazelnuts, flowers and berries.
Try it with: lime or in a chocolate martini
Need to know: Along the Amalfi Coast of Italy, Limoncello (shown in the above image) is served in chilled ceramic glasses as a digestive.
Try it with: pureed fruit or mint
As a rule, it’s best not to take advice from a serial killer. But follow Hannibal Lecter’s lead (on this point only) and incorporate fava beans into your spring dishes. Trust me, they couldn’t be farther from creepy.
Fava beans, also known as broad beans, are one of the oldest cultivated foods, dating back to 6000 BC. I have a gorgeous fava bean plant growing in my garden right now. (Check out the photo to the right.)
A staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, fava beans have a buttery texture and a light nutty flavor that works beautifully alone, tossed with other spring vegetables like morels and peas, or added to soups and salads. And they’re good for you: one cup of fava beans packs 12.9 grams of protein and serves up a good dose of iron and fiber as well.
Fava beans grow in long pods, which are shelled to get to the large, round green legume inside. When shopping for fava beans, choose pods that are firm and bright green and aren’t bulging with beans, a sign that the fava beans are older.
When fava beans are super young, you can actually eat the whole pod. But as they age, you’ll need to shell them. Think of it as shelling peas. Snap one end and gently split the pod to release the beans inside. They will look smooth and bright green and appetizing, though this outer skin isn’t actually edible. The easiest way to remove the skin is to quickly blanch the beans in salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. The skin will turn whitish-gray in color. Strain and peel the cooled beans and voila! Your fava beans are ready to eat.
One of the first dishes I’m going to make with my harvest of favas is Grilled Scallops with Fava Beans and Roasted Tomatoes.