KUALA LUMPUR, June 12 – Sometimes a little can go a long way.

Often when we peruse the beverage menu at a café, it’s easy to get confused with the myriad choices we are inundated with. So many pretty drinks, so little time!

There are those that are laden with all manner of sinful add-ons, from whipped cream to chocolate syrup. The heftier, Instagram-friendly shakes might even be topped with entire squares of brownies!

Then there are those that come in all colours of the rainbow... and then some. Mostly syrups, of course, but who’s checking the ingredient list when one is busy being beguiled by those hypnotic hues?

Clearly these require quite a bit of effort (or do they?), which is why it makes sense to fork over wads of hard earned cash for the privilege of purchasing a glass, to photograph and post online, to admire and pose with, until the formerly cold drink becomes lukewarm and suddenly not that worthy of our attention anymore...

A lot can be a lot. Too much, sometimes. That’s why I return time and again to that earlier sentiment: A little can go a long way.

It was summer in Prague, what feels like a lifetime ago (but it couldn’t have been more than a decade, though for some, that is a lifetime, I guess).

The weather was sweltering in a way we couldn’t have imagined Europe to be. After all, when you grew up this close to the equator, you assume everywhere else is cooler by comparison.

Not so. We were sweaty and sticky, just walking around the city, even when we sought out the shady cover of trees in the parks. That’s when we noticed how every other person walking by was sipping from a bottle of sparkling water.

These minty ice cubes were inspired by chilled sparkling water during a European summer.
These minty ice cubes were inspired by chilled sparkling water during a European summer.

In Rome, do as the Romans do. In Prague during summer, drink sparkling water.

We did and were refreshed, rejuvenated. Once we were able to stop bemoaning the heat, it was easier to discern the delights of that beautiful Eastern European city.

And in one of the cafés that we gratefully stopped at, our glasses of sparkling water came chilled by ice cubes with hearts of green. Whole mint leaves, one frozen in every ice cube.

Mint leaves impart a cool sweetness to every drink.
Mint leaves impart a cool sweetness to every drink.

They were gorgeous to behold and as they melted, imparted a faint sweetness to the sparkling water. Cool on the tongue and a flavour that was more grassy than menthol like.

We were astounded. Something so simple yet so transformative.

Ready whenever you need them: A tray of minty ice cubes.
Ready whenever you need them: A tray of minty ice cubes.

Once we were back home, we made it a practice to make a tray of these minty ice cubes, to have a trove of it in the freezer at any time.

These minty ice cubes are perfect to use with any cold beverage, not just sparkling water. They would be perfect for use in cocktails such as a mojito or a classic mint julep. A green smoothie or a post-workout protein shake, why not?

Sometimes a little can go a long way, and what a delicious way it is!

MINTY GINGER & LEMON ICE CUBES

Why stop at just mint?

While a single mint leaf in each ice cube is a visual delight like no other, some may find its effect a little too light. Those of us used to heavier flavours might not detect or appreciate the mint’s fragile fragrance.

Add a dash of lemon and ginger to help your minty ice cubes truly sparkle.
Add a dash of lemon and ginger to help your minty ice cubes truly sparkle.

So why not add a pair of trusty partners to the lonely mint and make it a livelier trio? I’m suggesting a hit of lemon and the sting of ginger.

Just note that we’d be using the juice of these extra ingredients rather than the whole food. So instead of lemon zest or grated ginger, we’d be using lemon juice and ginger juice. No fibrous roots screaming for dental floss or any rogue citrusy sacs.

This way, at least in certain light, the minty ice cubes still look clear rather than cloudy. Surprise your family and friends with a pop of pungent ginger and tart lemon in their drink when all they see is the vivid green of the frozen mint leaves.

Less of a surprise and more of a nasty shock if they happen to be allergic to ginger or lemon, so always check with your dinner guests if they have any food allergies, whatever you choose to cook.

(That’s why substitutions were invented. That and to annoy harried restaurant cooks.)

If ginger and lemon aren’t your thing, how about a touch of blue pea flower extract? Edible flowers are a good idea though not always in season or available. Their cordials, be it elderflower or roselle, might be easier to source.

Sometimes just a minor shift along the flavour spectrum will work wonders. Lemongrass is a more floral counterpart to ginger while limes may offer distinctively Asian notes that lemons lack.

When the ice cubes melt, bruise the now loose leaves to suffuse your beverage with more minty goodness.
When the ice cubes melt, bruise the now loose leaves to suffuse your beverage with more minty goodness.

When the ice cubes melt, your beverage will be suffused with minty goodness. Bruise the now loose mint leaves to impart more flavour to your drink.

You don’t have to limit it to only sweet concoctions either. A few minty ice cubes full of citrusy and spicy aromatics can be a boon for finishing a soup or stew, especially if you have a bubbling pot that’s too hot to serve quite just yet.

They won’t dilute your roasted pumpkin soup or spicy rosemary lamb stew too much, yet imbue each dish with a subtle perfume of... what else? Mint, lemon and ginger. Who could say no to that?

Here’s a tip for those specialty coffee lovers who enjoy brewing their own filter coffee at home. Use your gooseneck kettle to pour the water or ginger and lemon juice blend into the ice cube tray.

A normal kettle, I find, tends to require a very steady hand, else the impact of the water being poured into the tray will make a wet mess with puddles all over your kitchen counter.

So if you have a gooseneck kettle, do try using that. Else: slow and steady with your pouring. As the late Bruce Lee would say, “Be water, my friend.

Ingredients

1-inch nub of young ginger

Juice of 1 lemon

100ml filtered water

Mint leaves, enough to fill each tray compartment with a single leaf (approx. 18 leaves)

Method

Using a pestle and mortar, pound the nub of ginger until all the fibres are broken down. Add the lemon juice and mix well with the ginger paste.

Using a fine mesh sieve, strain this mixture into a kettle (use a gooseneck kettle if you have one). Add the water and mix well. This forms a lightly flavoured lemon-ginger water rather than a thick cordial.

Wash and drain your mint leaves before using them.
Wash and drain your mint leaves before using them.

Pour water into the ice tray, filling each compartment to about 7/8 full. Place one mint leaf (or two, if the leaves are small) in each ice cube compartment. Allow to freeze till solid, about 1-2 hours.

Serve by adding them to a glass of chilled sparkling water or your beverage of choice. You may also add these minty ice cubes to your favourite smoothie or post-workout protein shake.

For more Weekend Kitchen and other slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.