9.1.15 What a Sap
Traces of my recent trip to Greece still echo through my kitchen. The Greek salad simply does not grow old, and I now crave the strong herbal presence of fresh oregano, something I previously shunned. Another very particular flavor I discovered and adore is mastiha, "mastic" in English. This natural sap that weeps from the lentisc tree (Pistacia lentiscus), known as "the tears of Chios" (pronounced "hee-os"), is found only on that particular Greek island. Sun-dried into brittle, translucent bits of resin, mastiha becomes soft and gummy when chewed. In fact, its name derives from the Greek word meaning "to gnash the teeth," and is related to our "masticate." Used since antiquity for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, mastic has a sharp, piney aroma that reminds me of the rosin string players use to treat their bows. Its flavor is equally pungent and strangely compelling.
Mastic also imparts its gummy consistency and so is sometimes used to both thicken and flavor ice cream, puddings, sauces and preserves. In Greece, it lends its unique taste to a simple carbonated water known as Mastiqua. I drank endless glasses of this over ice and a piece of crushed cucumber while sitting in cafes in Syros overlooking the Aegean. Another wonderful discovery was a local cocktail, the Mastikito, made with Mastika, a mastiha-infused spirit. When we spied bottles of this at the duty free shop in the Athens airport, we knew it was coming home with us.
The Mastikito is essentially a Greek mojito, made with lime and mint. The herbal bite of Mastika replaces the smooth fire of rum.
Much like a julep, the drink was served over loads of crushed ice and I loved this refreshing feature. I use a linen bag (actually a seed-sprouting bag) and a meat pounder to crush ice. It's an old-fashioned technique that works quite well.
A bit of juicing, a bit of crushing and a bit of muddling are required for this simple, satisfying cocktail. My mint patch is in the midst of a last productive streak and this is a lovely tribute to it, to Greece and to a summer that is already almost a memory.
- — Fresh mint
- — 1 ounce lime juice
- — 2 ounces Mastika
- — Crushed ice
- — Splash seltzer
In the bottom of a cocktail shaker muddle the spent half of a juiced lime and 2 sprigs fresh mint.
Add the lime juice and Mastika and shake vigorously to infuse the liquid with the aromatic oils.
Fill a rocks glass halfway with crushed ice and strain the cocktail over. Stir in a splash of seltzer.
Garnish with a sprig of mint and serve.