As the days grow hotter and more sweltering, I’ve been reaching for glasses of a favorite summertime cooler: sekanjabin!
Sweet and tart, sekanjabin is an Iranian syrup with a rich history; it was mentioned as far back as the tenth century in Al-Fihrist, a catalog of books in Arabic. Similar to an oxymel, sekanjabin may have originated as a simple preparation of vinegar (serke) and honey (angobin). In medieval Persia, these syrups were used for therapeutic effects and often contained medicinal herbs.
How to Enjoy Sekanjabin
Today, sekanjabin is typically infused with mint. The syrup is often served as a dipping sauce for crisp romaine lettuce leaves — a fresh snack that can take the edge off a hot day.
Sekanjabin also makes a delicious beverage (sharbat-e sekanjabin) when mixed with plain or sparkling water. Adding some grated cucumber makes it even more refreshing. If you haven’t had a drinking vinegar before, you might think of this like lemonade, which is sweet, sour, and thirst-quenching.
To make the sekanjabin below, I experimented with recipes from Iranian cookbooks and food blogs and settled on the ratios of ingredients that I enjoyed most. I especially appreciated reading personal stories about sekanjabin on sites like The Persian Fusion, Turmeric & Saffron, and Fig & Quince.
Before we get to the recipes, let’s take a look at some of our ingredients…
Native to Africa, Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas, mints have appealed to humans for thousands of years. These days people often use a sprig of mint to garnish a glass, but mint can offer much more than that! In addition to its fresh flavor and uplifting scent, mint can promote good digestion, relieve tension headaches, and freshen breath. This sekanjabin recipe really infuses mint into the whole drink, and it’s perfect for summer days when you feel hot and sluggish.
When making sekanjabin, I typically use spearmint (Mentha spicata), which is sweeter and milder than peppermint (Mentha x piperita). However, you could experiment with peppermint, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and other delicious mint-family herbs.
People have been drinking vinegar for many millennia, often relying on vinegar to make water safe to drink, to preserve medicinal herbs and seasonal fruits, and for the benefits of the vinegar itself. The acetic acid in vinegar can help the body absorb essential minerals from the foods we eat, and its sour taste can stimulate saliva production and quench thirst.
I like using white wine vinegar in the recipe below, as it has a crisp, clean flavor that goes well with mint and cucumber. You could also try grape vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, or other types.
They don’t say “cool as a cucumber” for nothing! Consisting of about 95% water, cucumbers are hydrating, cooling, and refreshing when enjoyed in foods or drinks. Cucumber slices or poultices can also be used externally to soothe inflamed skin, such as a sunburn.
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) originated in India, where they have been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Now cucumbers are some of the most popular fruits to grow in gardens around the world, and there are numerous varieties for eating fresh or pickling.
For the Cucumber and Mint Cooler recipe, I especially like using small Persian cucumbers, which are crisp, slightly sweet, and devoid of tough seeds. These cucumbers have delicate skins, so peeling is optional. Other burpless varieties such as long, slender English cucumbers make a good substitute.
What you’ll need…
- 1 1/3 cups mild honey or 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
- Combine the honey and water in a saucepan.
- Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the honey.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Add the vinegar and continue simmering for 20 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency.
- Remove from the heat and skim off any foam. Stir in the mint. Let cool completely.
- Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer; discard the solids.
- Transfer to a clean container with a nonreactive lid. (Vinegar can corrode metal. If using a jar with a metal lid, place a piece of plastic wrap, waxed paper, or parchment paper between the jar and the lid to prevent it from corroding.)
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- To serve, mix with still or sparkling water to taste or use in the Cucumber and Mint Cooler recipe below.
Yield: About 1 3/4 cups
Cucumber and Mint Cooler
What you’ll need…
- 1 1/4 ounces (2 1/2 tablespoons) Mint Sekanjabin (above)
- 1/4 ounce ( 1 1/2 teaspoons) fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons grated cucumber
- Ice cubes
- 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) white rum (optional)
- 6 ounces (3/4 cup) chilled club soda
- Fresh mint sprig, for garnish
- In a tall glass, stir together the Mint Sekanjabin, lime juice, and grated cucumber.
- Fill the glass with ice and stir in the rum (if using) and club soda.
- Garnish with the mint, and serve immediately.
Yield: 1 serving
Recipes and photo reprinted with permission from Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home by Emily Han (Fair Winds Press, 2015).
Now I’d love to hear from you!
Have you ever had a drinking vinegar?
What are your favorite drinks to cool off in summer?
Please share in the comments below.