Antoine Hodge, the beverage director of "Afro-Asian-American restaurant" The Cecil in New York City, takes inspiration for many of his fantastic cocktails from Harlem's neighborhood markets and African produce stands. His newest addition to the cocktail menu, Teranga, is a smart, super-refreshing (and zero-proof) take on the classic gin and tonic made with ditax, a tart, nutrient-rich fruit native to Senegal.
“We have a lot of Africans who are on our staff, both in the kitchen and the front of house, and one Saturday I toured three of the local African markets with one of our pastry chefs, Saran," Hodge said. "It was great to see so many ingredients and fruits that I had never heard of before, and Saran taught me about the flavor profile for each one: She introduced me to baobab, which I now use in a bourbon cocktail with spiced chile molasses and lime, and she showed me ditax, a fruit whose flesh, seeds, bark and leaves are all prized in Senegal for their nutritional value."
Hodge realized ditax would make a great syrup to use in cocktails—or mocktails.
"The fruit is very fibrous and the liquid is very tart; it’s most commonly found in juice, syrup or powdered form here in the US," he said. "Ditax's tartness makes it a perfect base for a gin and tonic variation that we named Teranga, which means 'hospitality' in the Senegalese language Wolof. It is identified with the pride of Senegal; the Senegalese national football team is even known as the 'Lions of Teranga.'"
Hodge and his staff have added ditax syrup to the restaurant's flavor repertoire.
"Now we buy the juice at the African market on 116th Street between Frederick Douglas and St. Nicholas in Manhattan," he said. "There are similar markets all over Harlem and the Bronx."
2 ounces unsweetened ditax (also known as ditakh) juice
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 sprig Thai basil
¼ ounce agave nectar
¾ ounce lime juice
Lime wheel and Thai basil sprig, for garnish
Lightly muddle the coriander seeds and juniper berries in a shaker to crack them. Break the cinnamon stick in half and add to the shaker. Add the ditax juice and allow the mixture to sit for at least 20 minutes (up to one hour) to infuse. Add agave nectar, lime juice and ice, and shake. Double strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a tall highball glass filled with ice. Top with tonic water. Garnish with lime and Thai basil.