When we lived in California, we used to regularly visit Second Street in Long Beach, located in the neighborhood of Belmont Shore. I'd forgotten how often we'd gone there, and how many great food memories I had from the small storefront or side street restaurants we loved to go to. One of our favorites was Cafe Gazelle, an Italian restaurant that despite its tiny dining space was big on atmosphere and authentic food and consistently packed out; another was a sweets shop called Grandma's Sugarplums that was overflowing with an amazing variety of homemade desserts. After finding a parking spot, we would often start walking at one end of Second Street and just wander until we decided where to eat; sometimes we made it past the window of Sweet Jill's Bakery while they were making fresh cinnamon rolls, and sometimes not.
On one of those visits we tried a middle-eastern restaurant we'd never been to before. Though we'd eaten lots of hummus, baba ghanoush, and tabbouleh at other places, the waiter suggested several things that were new to us, as well as a really interesting twist on iced tea with rosewater added. I think the restaurant also served lemonade with rosewater, too.
So as I was making fresh lemonade recently, I decided to sweeten it with a simple rosewater syrup I made using honey granules. Then, as I was browsing through a cookbook, I saw a recipe for making granita. I knew that was it; the perfect vehicle for the lemon-rose flavor. Simple, but different, and infused with a little bit of cardamom, it's a sweet treat with just enough tang to make you pucker by the time you finish eating it. For dessert, it treads lightly at the end of a meal, but really, it's a perfect refresher anytime you need it.
Lemon Rose Granita
(technique adapted from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)
Note: I use honey granules in this recipe for flavor and because they're cheaper than using raw liquid honey; you can use organic sugar if you don't have honey granules, or, if you don't mind the expense, you can also use 3/4 cup raw honey.
1 cup honey granules or honey powder
1/2 cup rosewater
2 cardamom pods or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 + 1 cup water
1 cup lemon juice (about four to five medium-large lemons), freshly squeezed
freezer-safe shallow rectangular glass or ceramic storage dish, with lid, or shallow glass or ceramic casserole dish
The day before:
Make the rosewater syrup and juice the lemons. To make the rosewater syrup, in a small 2-quart saucepan, mix together the honey granules, rosewater, cardamom and 1/2 cup of water. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the granules dissolve and the syrup just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat, cover, and let cool to room temperature.
In the meantime, juice the lemons and strain the pulp from the juice using a fine metal strainer. Set aside. When the syrup has cooled to room temperature, about 75º degrees, strain the syrup through a strainer lined with muslin into a quart-size mason jar. Add the lemon juice and 1 cup of water to the mason jar. Fasten the lid tightly on the mason jar, and shake to mix everything up well. Place in the refrigerator overnight, letting the flavors get comfortable with one another and develop a nice relationship.
The next day:
Use a large freezer-safe rectangular glass storage dish, preferably with its own lid. A long rectangular glass casserole dish will work too. Use plastic wrap to cover if you don't have a lid. Pour the lemon-rosewater syrup mixture into the dish, seal, and place in the freezer. Every 30 minutes, remove the container from the freezer and stir the mixture to break up the ice crystals and distribute them evenly. As the mixture becomes more frozen, stir and using a chopping motion to create a slushy texture, then smooth back down and cover until the next stir.
After about 2 hours or so you should have a very icy, slushy texture to the mixture. At this point, smooth the top of the mixture down again, cover, and let freeze for a couple more hours, without stirring, until ready to serve. Remove container from freezer, and using the edge of a big metal spoon, shave from the top layer to the bottom to break the hardened slush into fluffy ice crystals. Spoon into glasses and serve immediately.
Makes about six 1-cup servings