My first time in Mexico, I had a margarita epiphany. Behind every bar and atop every oilcloth-covered table were bowls of bright green, gumball-sized limes that seemed so delicate compared to our big ol’ American limes. I soon learned that these miniature, slightly sweeter iterations were key limes—as opposed to the Persian limes that are ubiquitous here—and they were utterly delicious. Of course I had indulged in a key lime pie or two in my day, but it wasn’t until I returned from that vacation that I started incorporating key limes into my go-to recipes.
cinco de mayo
There’s one really good taco place in Iowa City, and it’s good enough to hold its own against the Mission’s best Mexican joints—a fact for which I give thanks at least once a week. Sometimes twice. Along with my usual order of fish and carnitas tacos (and a chicken tostada if I’m really hungry), I always ask for a jamaica agua fresca. In fact, it’s become such a routine that the guy who seems to be working every time I stop by always says, “and a jamaica, right?” before I can finish my order.
A few weeks ago, tragically, they were out of jamaica, so my guy took me over to the other side of the restaurant where there’s a small tienda. He reached up to the spice rack, pulled down a packet of dried hibiscus flowers and told me to brew them with hot water and sugar to make jamaica at home. Bless him.
What followed was my joyous exploration into the making and drinking of jamaica. Consequently, I was compelled to add some of this delicious jamaica concentrate to one of my favorite liquors, mezcal, to combine the sweet and tangy hibiscus with the lovely smokiness of mezcal in one delicious cocktail that’s more-than-worthy of Cinco de Mayo. Cheers!
1. Combine mezcal, jamaica, ginger simple syrup and lime juice in a cocktail shaker, add ice and stir for 15 seconds.
2. Strain over ice—bonus points if there are edible flowers in your cubes—and serve with chips and salsa.
*To make the jamaica concentrate:
1. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan then add 2 cups (about 2 ounces) dried jamaica blossoms and 1 1/4 cups sugar and stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for more than an hour but no more than two hours. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and refrigerate until ready to use in your cocktail. If you want to drink the leftovers as an agua fresca, water down the concentrate with a few cups of water to taste.