The story of this recipe begins somewhere out in the Andaman sea, where daytimes were made of glassy turquoise-green water and night skies were dusted with powdered sugar.
Many tried misguidedly to harness the magic of this place, crowding its waters and its forests with noisy jetskis and concept restaurants, but only the Full Moon Cafe would capture wonderment in its food. Here, amongst so many delicate offerings, was a drink called the lavender cardamom fizzy, and it begged to return home with us.
So we brought it back with us to Auroville, so far from the glassy seas and into the red earth and pouring rain. Perhaps because the idea was so far from home, our first experiments failed. The cardamom flavor overwhelmed, or the lavender did. Most important, the color was all wrong. How could a lavender drink possibly be brown? It was all cognitive dissonance and disharmony.
The solution to this dilemma lay, along with so many others if we would just go seeking them, in the garden.
Butterfly peas or what we know alternatingly as shanku pushpam (Tamil), aparajita (Sanskrit) and “Radha’s consciousness” in these parts bloomed on random vines daily and unheedingly. Of its many names, “Radha’s consciousness” was the most profoundly evocative: the flower’s deep violet-blue was, after all, the colour of Krishna’s own body and therefore symbolic of Radha’s yearning for her beloved: her “perfect attachment to the Divine.” In our house, that was all the analogy we needed for the name to stick.
Extracting color from butterfly pea flowers
Extracting color became a daily duty. Flowers would be collected every morning, rain or shine, and immersed in 1 cup of hot water.
[Don’t have the butterfly pea vine? They are super easy to grow, and seeds are easy to obtain through online catalogs of heirloom and other medicinal plants, botanical name is Clitoria ternatea. Stick a few in a pot (or ground), give the vine something to climb on, and watch all the magic unfold. Remember to leave a few flowers to seed. Once the pods are dry, you can plant them in a new pot as the vines only seem to last a few weeks at a time.]
A handful of flowers were all that was needed to turn the water an inimitable blue.
We would collect flowers and extract color separately every day, and combine today’s colored liquid with yesterday’s every evening, allowing it to rest in the fridge. Sometimes we’d just collect in separate jars and combine after a few days. It was an ad-hoc process, very forgiving.
After a few days (not more than a week), we would strain out the blue liquid and squeeze out the flowers, which by now resembled wet cloth. [Notice the extract color in the image below has magenta hints. There are latent pink possibilities in this, as noted below–but with which I’ll deal in a later post.]
Preparing the concentrate
Once we had a quantity of liquid, we measured the blue liquid to prepare simple syrup (1 cup liquid : 1 cup sugar)–but boiled it down somewhat, both to intensify the blue color and to turn it into a concentrate. We wound up with about 1 liter or roughly 4 cups of concentrate (from 7 cups of liquid, after a week of flower collection). We weren’t being terribly precise.
Separately, we made a strong infusion of cardamom and culinary lavender: 1 tablespoon of dry lavender flowers and 10 crushed cardamom pods in 1 cup of water. Add a cup of sugar and heat to dissolve–and that became a scented simple syrup, too.
We combined the scented syrup with the blue liquid–carefully, adding only as much as is needed to impart flavor without depleting color. (Reserve the remaining lavender cardamom syrup for separate use in the fridge). Bottle–and refrigerate.
Assembling the drinks
Next, the drinks which were simple enough to prepare: a measure each of concentrate and vodka (or not, if making the virgin version), ice, all topped with either soda or tonic water (I preferred the tonic water for its slight quinine bitterness and balancing of the concentrate’s straight sweetness).
Note: The flower extract is ph-sensitive, which means that if you add lemon juice to it, it will steadily turn pink. You could well use it to throw together pink mojitos for your next girl’s night out, or naturally colored pink lemonade for your next kiddie birthday party. But for now, I’m focusing on the blue.
But there were two ways to mix: one which showcased the light lavender color of the diluted concentrate, the other which preserved, for just a little longer, the intense blue of Radha’s consciousness. The trick lay in just how ingredients got assembled.
Lavender cardamom fizzies
Lavender cardamom fizzies, the non-alcoholic version, seemed to want to just be lavender from the get-go. So that was easy enough: pour in a measure of concentrate, add ice, and top with either soda or tonic water. Give it a stir if you need to, though the addition of the soda/tonic water might well have been sufficient to combine ingredients while preserving a bit of color variation from bottom of glass to top.
Blue vodka fizzies
Blue vodka fizzies, on the other hand, demanded different treatment. Here you’ll want to start with that same measure of concentrate in a similar sort of tall glass — add ice — then slowly pour in the same measure of vodka — and carefully and slowly top up with soda/ tonic water, in exactly that order. If you’ve done it right, the heavier blue concentrate sits at the bottom while the fizzy at the top runs clear, until whoever’s drinking it decides to give the glass a stir. Or not.
Find a book, steal an hour, creep out into a corner of a garden if you can get to one, or just sit in the glorious company of a potted plant if you must, and I promise, you’ll be stirred–even if your drink is not.