From: Fig & Quince
What is the work of the thirsty one?
To circle forever ’round the well,
‘Round the stream and the Water and the sound of the Water,
Like a pilgrim circling the Kaa’ba of Truth
God’s wrath is His vinegar, mercy His honey.
These two are the basis of every oxymel.
If vinegar overpowers honey, a remedy is spoiled.
The people of the earth poured vinegar on Noah;
the Ocean of Divine Bounty poured sugar.
The Ocean replenished his sugar,
and overpowered the vinegar of the whole world.
Our featured Persian beverage, Sharbat ‘e sekanjabin, is perhaps the oldest type of Persian sharbat, tracing its roots at least as far back as the 10th century, as noted and praised in the canons of medicine written by Ibn Sina (Avicenna) the Persian polymath.
The name ‘sekanjabin’ is an Arabized version of the original Persian term, ‘serkangabin’, a combination of the Persian words ‘serkeh’ (vinegar) and ‘angebin’ (syrup, sweetness), literally meaning ‘honeyed vinegar’. True to its name, sekanjabin is made with vinegar and honey.
Sweet and sour and infused with the heady scent and flavor of fresh mint, this sharbat was not only popular with the Persians, but also copied and favored by the ancient Greeks and Romans who knew it as oxymel.
The recipe is satisfyingly simple: after boiling honey and water, vinegar is added and the mixture is left to simmer. Fresh mint leaves are then added and the syrup is left to cool for at least an hour, or up to 24 hours for a stronger minty flavor. Sekanjabin, like all types of sharbat, is shelf-stable for a good year if stored in a cool, dark place.
Like all types of sharbats, sekanjabin is served diluted with ice water in a glass or pitcher — as a perfect sweet and sour palette tickling summer cooler cordial. (For a modern twist, sparkling water can substitute flat water.)
“The one who tastes, knows. The one who tastes not, knows not. Don’t speak of a heavenly beverage; offer it at your banquets and say nothing. Those who like it will ask for more; those who don’t aren’t fit to drink it. Close the shop of debate and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.”
Recipe for Sharbat ‘e Sekanjabin (Persian honey vinegar & mint cooler)
Yields enough syrup to serve 4-6.
- 1 1/3 cup honey (or use sugar instead, but that’s not the Avicenna way, and it’ll be far less healthy for you)
- 1 cup filtered water
- 2/3 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar (I used and prefer apple cider vinegar)
- fresh mint sprigs (1-2 cups or a bunch)
Give me a sun, I care not how hot, and sherbet, I care not how cool, and my Heaven is as easily made as your Persian’s. — Lord Byron ,1813
That Lord Byron! What a Romantic! And he sure seems to have liked sipping sharbat. And who can blame him?
But sharbat comes in many more wonderful flavors: quince, pomegranate, lemon, rhubarb, strawberry, mulberry, blackberry, raspberry or even key lime are each enchanting in their own particular way. One can also savour sharbats made with mint, rosewater, saffron, chicory, musk willow, sweet briars, palm pods, citron and orange blossom – ingredients that reflect the poetic nature of Persian cuisine. Whatever the flavor, sharbat hits the spot during the dog days of summer, reviving the body and soul, and in some instances even offering some type of medicinal benefit.