Pistachio Persian (a nutty and aromatic non-alcoholic riff on the White Russian)
And an announcement about 5PM Eternal taking a little break.
Hello readers and happy Spring! Before I jump into this week’s non-alcoholic cocktail recipe, there’s a little bit of housekeeping I need to do. This issue is coming weeks after the last one, which was itself a week or two late. Right now, I feel like I am constantly running behind on getting it written, photographed, and out into the world, and while I do think deadlines and restrictions are a normal and even positive part of the creative process, there is such a thing as too much.
It’s become clear to me that I need to rethink how I structure 5PM Eternal to make this personal project sustainable while taking on paid writing gigs. I don’t know what that is going to look like, yet. It might be a tiered subscription model with some posts public and some for paid subscribers, or moving to twice a month, or something else entirely, but I don’t want it living on the back burner like it has been. After all, this is my baby and I would almost always prefer to be writing this to anything else.
I’ll let you know what the deal is in the next newsletter (so make sure you’re subscribed!) which won’t be next week but I promise will be relatively soon. In the meantime, consider it an opportunity to finally try all the drinks in the archive that you haven’t, yet!
And now onto this week’s drink.
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Inspiration is a strange friend. She hangs out when she feels like it. Sometimes you can’t find her in the places where you expect her to be, and then she will pop up in totally unglamorous places for the most inane reasons. Like when I came up for the recipe for this drink the very night I sent out my last newsletter.
A few days earlier, I’d gotten a huge shipment of pistachio milk, because I had forgotten to cancel my subscription after I found a local source where I could buy it as needed so as not to have to store cases of it in my small New York apartment. I joked that all of my cocktails from now on have to have pistachio milk in them, but I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with it.
Around the same time, my social media feeds were almost entirely posts about either the war in Ukraine or people and food sites preparing for Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival that coincides with the Spring Equinox (and for which, I am sorry to say, I did not release this recipe in time!). In the midst of this seeming clash of topics, I kept seeing a picture going around of an off-white slush tumbling around a frozen drink machine, hastily relabeled “White Ukrainian” instead of White Russian. My first thought was, “Yikes,” given that reports that non-white Ukrainian residents were having some difficulty evacuating the country, some kicked off of transportation to Poland’s border, some turned away when they got there.
But the second thought I had, kind of embarrassingly, was that a White Russian with pistachio milk instead of dairy would probably be pretty delicious.
Initially, I set out to make a kind of one to one non-alcoholic version, just substituting pistachio milk for heavy cream. Only problem is that I didn’t have any non-alcoholic vodka, and as I’ve written before, the whole idea of a non-alcoholic version of something made to taste as much like nothing as possible seems like a Zen koan— “What is the flavor of flavorlessness?” At first, I tried Lyre’s White Cane Spirit, as it’s fairly neutral, if a bit sweet, combined with their Coffee Originale zero proof coffee liqueur, and added pistachio milk. Absolute failure. The pistachio milk wasn’t heavy enough to act as the cream does in a white Russian, and adding pistachio flavor to the usually simple combination of slightly sweet coffee and cream didn’t quite work; it felt like it was missing something, that more elements were needed to marry the flavors.
Researching variations of the White Russian for inspiration, I found one that used amaro in addition to the vodka and coffee liqueur. I have a lot of non-alcoholic amari, but only one that made sense with both coffee and pistachio: the cardamom and saffron heavy Rasavada Black Ginger. It’s also loaded with other flavors that are used in Middle Eastern cuisines, like turmeric and pomegranate molasses. I replaced the White Cane Spirit with Black Ginger, and just that combination alone was complex, tasty, and deeply aromatic, though much more Persian than Russian.
But the cream was still an issue. I was absolutely committed to using pistachio milk at this point, for one because I had so much of it, but two, because regular cream with this complexly spiced base would have been entirely wrong. I had a little jar of pistachio paste, the kind you use to stuff cookies or spread on toast (or eat straight out of the jar— listen, don’t judge me). Adding that to the shaker along with the pistachio milk thickened the whole thing up into a properly creamy cocktail with a luscious pistachio flavor.
Which should have been enough. But as I mentioned in the last 5PM Eternal, I love to make things more complicated. While the flavor was right, and the heft was what I was going for, I didn’t love the way the additional oil in the pistachio paste gave the drink a bit of a greasy, buttery mouthfeel when shaken with and poured over ice.
So I decided to make my own pistachio paste made from nothing but pistachios. After all, according to dozens of food bloggers on the internet, making your own pistachio paste is so easy! Allow me to disillusion you: these people are lying. I mean, nothing about it is particularly difficult, but for best results you do have to make sure that the skins are removed from the pistachio meat, which is time intensive and tedious.
While making the paste, I decided to substitute pistachio milk instead of water to smooth and bind the crushed and ground nuts, and in the process realized I didn’t have to separately use pistachio milk and pistachio paste. Adding pistachio milk, a tablespoon at a time, yielded a rich, pale green liquid.
Pistachio heavy cream.
There are some of you who read this (not going to name names, but you know who you are) whose heart rate just went up reading those three words together. People like me who eat almond butter out of the jar; who prefer peanut butter without and over chocolate. For us, this stuff is dangerously delicious. It’s entirely vegan. It’s not terribly sweet but has the concentrated flavor of pistachio ice cream. You can make it in a food processor and, while it does require kind of expensive ingredients, there are only two of them. You don’t have to strain it through a cotton straining bag, though I recommend it to get the silky, grit free texture of real cream. (It took me literally 20 years of dismissing so-called “nut milk” bags as a ludicrous expense I would use only when trying novelty vegan recipes, but since I finally surrendered and bought these from Net Zero Co., I’ve been surprised how often I use them. The small bags are perfect for steeping a cup of afternoon tea, the medium sized one for cold-brewing big batches of iced coffee concentrate without having to pour it through a filter to strain the grounds, and I use the large one for thickening homemade yogurt).
Because I still had an excess of pistachio milk, I thought I’d go nuts (see what I did there?) and make pistachio milk ice cubes, so the drink becomes nuttier as you sip it… that is, if you can savor it slowly enough, which might be a challenge for some of us. Topped with a quick grind or two of good quality cardamom, this is a zero proof cocktail with an aromatic and sophisticated flavor profile that is ten times better than the initial alcoholic cocktail that inspired it.
As for the name, if vodka is all it takes to make a cocktail Russian, I’m of the opinion that pistachio, cardamom, saffron, and pomegranate molasses are more than enough to make a drink Persian.
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RECIPE: Pistachio Persian
1½ oz Lyre’s Coffee Originale
2 oz pistachio heavy cream (see recipe and note below)
pistachio milk ice cubes (optional, see note)
fresh ground cardamom, like Burlap & Barrel Cloud Forest Cardamom, to garnish
Add Coffee Originale, Black Ginger, and pistachio heavy cream to cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, at least 30 seconds, to chill.
Strain over ice cubes in a double old fashioned or collins glass.
Top with 2 or 3 grinds of fresh cardamom seeds.
You can substitute 2 ounces pistachio milk plus 1 tablespoon of store bought pistachio cream spread for the pistachio heavy cream. Pistachio cream spreads are available at Italian specialty stores and online at supermarketitaly.com.
To make pistachio milk ice cubes, pour Táche Original Blend Pistachio Milk into silicone ice cube trays and freeze until solid (8 hours of overnight).
RECIPE: Pistachio Heavy Cream
½ cup shelled, raw pistachios
In a small sauce pan, bring about 2 inches of water to a boil.
Remove sauce pan from heat, and pour pistachios into the water. Cover the pot and let sit for 2-3 minutes.
Drain pistachios and place them in a dry, clean dishtowel. Rub gently to remove the skins from the pistachios, being careful not to crush them. This will probably require going over each pistachio individually and peeling off some of the remaining skin with your fingers.
Place the peeled pistachios in a food processor and pulse until you get a very, very fine meal, scraping down the bowl as you go.
Add the pistachio milk to the food processor about a tablespoon at a time, blending completely between each addition of liquid.
Strain the mix through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
Optional: after the first straining, pour the remaining liquid into a cotton straining bag. Slowly but firmly squeeze the bag, starting at the top and working your way down. You want to add enough pressure that you’re getting as much liquid out of the bag but not forcing pistachio to burst the seams! Have a pretty wide bowl underneath the bag for this; trust me, you don’t want to lose a drop of this stuff.
As I mentioned earlier, I came up with this drink more than 2 weeks ago at this point, but actually getting it photographed took way more time than I thought it would. Finding the few hours to make my hair look decent and set up the camera and tripod and take a couple hundred pictures to get a few that I like is always a bit of a challenge, but for various reasons, the last few weeks it was particularly difficult to squeeze into my schedule… and then I had to do it twice. The initial shoot I did, I didn’t love the pictures, but then the second that I finally did last night, I hated all of them, so I went back to the original one and realized there were enough that were decent that I could just use them.
But the delay ended up having a silver lining: I get to use Serving Suggestions to recommend Charli XCX’s new album, Crash, which came out a couple of weeks ago, and has been almost the only thing I have listened to ever since when I haven’t had to DJ (and even then, a lot of it was still in my sets!). Every single from this album, starting with the release of “Good Ones” last year, has been an absolute bop, but the full album is a floor filling masterpiece. Crash is inspired combination of classic house and electro samples (Robin S.’s “Show Me Love”, the synth stabs of “Planet Rock,” and a chopped up version of Sasha’s “Wavy Gravy,” among them) and 90’s Janet Jackson inspired beats, overlaid by Charli’s signature bitterly humorous, self-deprecating, and ambivalent love song lyrics, with a trio of cool indie artists, Caroline Polachek, Christine and the Queens, and Rina Sawayama, sharing the mic on a few tracks.
You can find it on all streaming music apps now. And you should right this very second.
Thank you for reading, everyone. Until… very soon, but not next week, enjoy the beginnings of spring, keep those drinks zero proof, and your 5PMs Eternal!
I realized I never actually commented on this, thought I meant to at the time (my life has been in its own turmoil this year, as many people's are -- good, in my case, but distracting). I love this newsletter, and I regularly recommend it to people (NA drinks come up surprisingly frequently in my life these days, which is a delight!). I'm also really glad you're looking at how to make this more sustainable for you instead of trying to push through the ways it is not working in its current form. I hope you're able to find a way to continue writing it that works better for you, and I look forward to seeing what form that winds up being in.