[This is cross-posted from Slow Tuesday Night, where the Cocktail of the Month is a regular feature, but I felt like this one is front page material. I’m sure you’ll let me know if I’m wrong.]
When I attended the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Lyon, France, in the 1994-95 school year, I had a Tunisian roommate named Samir. We got along pretty well–despite being an observant Muslim, he forgave me the incident when, as a result of my friends’ “Get Scott Drunk Party,” I made the room uninhabitable to him for a day. His cousin, Hatem, was a student of the Koran as well as engineering, and he visited us often. They liked to chat about Islam and the Koran with me, an American who knew nothing more than it was written by a guy named Mohammed. At first, they were very defensive, but once they figured out I had no preconceptions, it was fun. It helped that I was fascinated by Arabic, and Samir taught me the alphabet and a few words and phrases. It turns out the greeting Samir taught me–“As-sliama”–is specific to Tunisia. (Sorry if I mistransliterated, but I can’t find the right way online.)
After a trip back to Tunisia to visit his family, Samir shared with me some special pastries made by his grandmother. They were out of this world…well, out of my world, anyway. I’d never had so much as halvah, so I’d never experienced anything like these tiny cakes that were bone dry, delicate and crumbly, but permeated with flavor. Sesame was at the fore, of course, but there was pistachio, date, rose, clove, cinnamon, and I’m sure more that I just can’t remember. It was a wonderful gift for him to share his family’s traditions with me.
When the uprisings occurred in Tunisia in 2010, I tried to use the Internet to find Samir, but to no avail; his family name was just too common. I found someone with the exact same name as his cousin, and I wrote him, hoping it might be the same one. I wished them well, explaining why I was writing to someone who was probably a complete stranger (I just couldn’t imagine how Hatem could have aged into the person in the picture I found), and wishing this Hatem well in his new Tunisia.
So, a year ago, Tunisia had its first freely elected president ever, and a wave of Arab protests sparked by the Tunisian uprising would become known as the Arab Spring. You may think me callous to feel celebratory when the Bahraini rebellion was so mercilessly crushed and the Syrian rebellion escalates to full civil war. I tend to think we should celebrate freedom when and where we can, and so my February drink of the month is called the Arab Spring. If you don’t like it, call it some other damn thing.
The Arab Spring
- 1 oz rose syrup
- cinnamon stick
Pour the rose syrup over the ice in a rocks glass, fill with seltzer, and stir and garnish with the cinnamon stick. Don’t ditch the cinnamon. I found rose syrup in an Arab foods store, which you may or may not have in your area. If you find rose water instead (I couldn’t find any), that might be more authentic, so go for it and tell me how it tastes!
Note that this is our first non-alcoholic “cocktail” of the month, out of respect for the fellows–Samir and Hatem–who connected me, however tenuously, with Tunisia. It’s sooooo worth it–it is absolutely delicious. Plus, it’s a lovely pink-to-red color if you use rose syrup, which makes it perfect for Valentine’s Day! Double plus, any of our Leaguers who don’t drink can enjoy it with reckless abandon.
For those who couldn’t care less about sipping something non-alcoholic, I understand. So, I’ve tried some variations. You can add a splash of cinnamon schnapps, and that works very well. You can add a shot of vodka before filling with seltzer, and that also works, and of course combining that with the schnapps is good, too. I thought I was brilliant for the idea of replacing the seltzer with champagne, but this fails, as the fruity flavors of the champagne completely cover the rose flavor. Finally, and I haven’t tried this yet, but I know it would work, you can steep homegrown (or organic) rose petals in vodka for a week or so and use that plus red food coloring in place of the rose syrup.
Sorry if it’s too exotic to get all the ingredients, but if you can find them, it’s totally worth trying. Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy anniversary of the beginning of the end of American Imperialism!