Hot weather can bring on soda cravings like nothing else, but who wants to pack their body with 10 teaspoons of sugar (actually, high fructose corn syrup)? You can make a quick and fresh soda at home with little trouble. These fresh lime sodas have become second nature to me. I can assemble one in 30 seconds. I store fresh limes, 12 oz. cans of sparkling water and simple syrup (recipe after the jump) in the fridge so I can make them in a flash.
Considered the “supreme quencher of colonial thirst,”* fresh lime sodas are a ubiquitous street drink found in India during the summer months. There are a wide range of possibilities, but each drink begins with the basic concept of limes meeting carbonated water. It’s like a homemade 7-Up, but fresher and less syrupy.
Sometimes the sodas come with cumin and other spices, but the standards are sweet and salty, along with my favorite: mixed. As you may have noticed from my lassi recipe, I really like the way a dash of salt balances sugar in food. It’s not as weird as you think, especially in a beverage that begins with sour citrus. After all, we all put salt in cakes and cookies, right?
That combo is especially good at beating heat, which is why this drink is so common on the streets of India. And because it’s made of bottled soda water, you can feel safe drinking it on the streets without worrying about tap water-borne illness. Here you can watch a street vendor in Goa preparing the drink:
I found myself craving these after I left India in 2008, and it wasn’t until I saw fresh lime soda on the menu of a local pizza restaurant in D.C. (go figure) that I realized I could make them at home. After much experimentation, I have found a balance of flavors that works for me. In India, you’ll see the vendors putting heaps of sugar and salt in your glass to make the drink. As good as it may be, I just can’t do that to myself. I think you’ll also prefer the milder version I suggest below, which still packs a lot of flavor.
South Asia has a wider variety of citrus than is available in your average American supermarket, so some of the intense lime flavor in this drink cannot be perfectly replicated. Don’t despair, because you can get pretty close anyway. Squeeze any ol’ lime, add sugar and/or salt and top with soda water, and you have a magically refreshing drink.
I use the lime zest in my drink, which you won’t find in the original version. Zest is packed with flavor that most people just throw away. Use it, and trust me, you will love it.
One more note: Look at the ingredients in your soda water when you buy it and make sure it doesn’t have any sodium or sugar substitutes. It can be tricky to find plain sparkling water. To be safe, feel free to get fancy and use San Pelligrino.
Prepare the simple syrup by heating up 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of water. When the sugar dissolves, turn off the heat. It’s not necessary to boil the syrup. Let it cool and store it in your fridge.
Split the zest of 1 lime between two glasses. Slice the lime in half, and squeeze one half in each glass. Add 1 tbsp. of the prepared simple syrup and a pinch of salt to each glass. Adjust to taste.
Add a few ice cubes and stir the mixture until the salt dissolves. Top with 6 oz. of carbonated water and serve.
* Colonial reference courtesy of KT Achaya, A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food (Oxford University Press, 1998).