We visited Miami recently and decided to eat at some Cuban restaurants. Why not try out the local cuisine when vacationing? We enjoyed everything we ordered; especially the refreshing mojito drinks. I thought of all the mint growing in my garden — what a good way to use it!
Growing up in a tea-toting family; I wasn’t exposed to many cocktails and was not familiar with a mojito drink. At the “Little Havana” Restaurant, this was the first cocktail on the menu — suggesting it was a popular one. We ordered it.
Wow — sweet, minty, refreshing and not overpowering of any flavor. A mojito drink is a rum cocktail with lime juice, mint, sugar and carbonated fizz. The mint leaves are bruised to release the essential oil flavors. This restaurant somehow suspended the mint leaves partially up the glass making for an attractive presentation. The drinks were served in tall, clear upright highball glass tumblers. Of course, we then had to try the mojito drinks everywhere we went. I liked “Little Havana” Restaurant’s the best.
The Mojito originated in Havana, Cuba. It was a favorite drink of Ernest Hemingway who frequented a bar called, La Bodequita del Medio, making it a well known Cuban establishment.
The tropical setting of Miami and Fort Lauderdale is so appealing. We enjoyed the music, the sights, the beach and the food. Here’s the Fort Lauderdale beach early in the morning on the Fourth of July. And the Latin community is thriving — seemed like Spanish was the predominant language everywhere we went.A Yelp.com search of nearby Cuban restaurants showed many choices. We tried “A Three Palms Cuban Cafe” on Biscayne Blvd. My husband ordered breakfast — no one spoke English (not even the manager) so we couldn’t figure out what the rectangular fried food item was. Later we discovered it was croquettes. This is a popular Cuban appetizer of ground chicken or ham and cheese in a cream sauce, then deep fried. The food was tasty and a reviewer on Yelp commented that this is the closest to his Cuban mother’s home cooked meals that he’d found.
Other restaurants we tried were “Little Havana” and “Havana 1957”.
The latter refers to the golden years in Cuba prior to the revolution. The walls were covered with memorabilia. Both restaurants served mojito drinks. We drove by, but didn’t stop, at “The Versailles”. This is a huge, old family Cuban restaurant and is probably one of the best known. I purchased a recipe book by the owners which gives interesting history of the restaurant and family, beautiful photos and stories of the recipes.
Mojito Cocktail – A Louisiana Variation
I tried making mojito cocktails at home using ingredients I already had on hand. This meant using Puerto Rican rum in place of Cuban rum. The drinks were originally made with sugar cane syrup or sugar. I substituted Louisiana Steen’s Cane syrup. And I tried a variation with Domino’s powdered sugar (from sugar cane). “Sugar in the Raw”, a turbinado sugar, could be used.The fresh squeezed lime juice, sugar (either powdered sugar, raw sugar or sugar cane syrup) and mint leaves are added to the glass. A bar tool called a muddler, which is a long stick with a flat circular piece attached to the bottom of the stick, is used for bruising the mint leaves. Or the mint leaves are rubbed with your hands. The mint leaves are not crushed, just bruised, to release essential oils. I used a chopstick with ho hum results. The back of a fork could be used.
Then rum is added and the ingredients mixed. Crushed ice is added to the glass, then sparkling water (club soda, seltzer) is added and the drink is stirred. Garnish with lime wedges, mint leaves and a stick of raw sugar cane. This is available in some groceries in the fall in Louisiana. Or try a grocery such as Whole Foods.
The proportions of rum and fizz varied in the recipes I reviewed. In general, 1 part rum and 2 parts fizz seemed common. But make this drink as strong as you like. Or omit the rum for a fizzy lime-aide drink.
Does mint grow in Louisiana Gardens?
The Cuba drink uses “yerba buena,” a type of mint similar to spearmint. Mint grows like a weed in a Louisiana garden — both spearmint and peppermint — and will quickly take over the entire area. Many recipes used 4 mint leaves; I found that I needed more leaves to get a refreshing minty flavor. (And I have an endless supply of mint!)
Refreshing Mojito Cocktail: A Louisiana Variation
- 1/2 lime, fresh squeezed to make 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 2 Tbsp powdered sugar, superfine sugar or Demerara sugar (a turbinado sugar such as “Sugar in the Raw”) OR
- 1 Tbsp Steen’s Cane Syrup
- 8 fresh mint leaves
- 2 oz Bacardi Rum
- cracked ice
- 4 oz sparkling water such as club soda or seltzer
- additional lime wedges, fresh mint, sugar cane stick for garnish (optional)
Instructions and Method:
- Squeeze 1/2 fresh lime into tall upright highball glass; this should be about 2 Tbsp lime juice.
- Add the powdered sugar, superfine sugar or “Sugar in the Raw “or Steen’s Cane syrup.
- Place 8 mint leaves into bottom of glass over the sugar and lime juice. Using a muddler, or back of a fork, mash the mint leaves to release the essential oils. Continue to mash the leaves until you can smell the fragrance. Avoid shredding the leaves.
- Add the rum and stir.
- Add cracked ice so the the glass is 1/2 full. Pour in sparkling water.
- Garnish with additional lime wedges, fresh mint and a sugar cane stick if desired.
Enjoy this refreshing beverage on a hot summer day!We did one more activity, too — we visited the Florida Evergades and took an airboat tour through the swamp on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. The Everglades is totally different from our Louisiana swamp.The tour stopped at an island in the swamp, the ancestral home of Tigertail, the Indian who operated the tour.We walked around the island, learned about conservation issues, the animals and vegetation in the swamp and held an alligator! What a contrast to the city — and just a few miles away. Another world from the Fort Lauderdale beach!