Summer officially began yesterday, and I am feeling the new season in every fiber of my being. The weather is getting warmer, days are getting lazier, meals are migrating outdoors, and grills are firing up around the country. At this time of year, my family yearns for Israel. We try to make a trip there every year, usually in the warmer months. It’s a magical place. We stay in Tel Aviv, making day trips to places like Jerusalem, Haifa and Galilee.
One of our first stops is always Caesarea, an ancient Roman port city built by Herod the Great. There you can walk among the ruins of a pagan city named for the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. It’s built on top of the ruins of Straton’s Tower (Stratonospyrgos), an agricultural storehouse and Jewish city that was central to the Hasmonean Kingdom’s shipbuilding industry. In 63 BCE, when Herod took over, he oversaw the construction of a harbor, roads, baths, temples, markets, and a large arena. The city became central to Roman life in the area, regularly hosting events like gladiator games, chariot races, and theatrical productions. Today, the structures of the city Herod built are still largely intact. You can view the baths, walk in the arena, see the sculptures, and imagine what it was like to live there in Roman times.
When you’re done exploring Caesarea, you can stop at one of the seaside cafes along the shoreline. We like to sit and order a meal, taking in the ocean air and atmosphere. It is really something to dine in the middle of an ancient city. Our tradition is to order limonana, the national drink of Israel. Limonana is lemonade blended together with mint and ice to make a frozen slush. It is so refreshing, the perfect treat for a hot, humid Israeli afternoon.
When the weather is hot here in Los Angeles, I blend up a batch of limonana. My recipe appears below. You can easily make it diet or diabetic friendly by using a low glycemic sweetener (suggestions appear at the end of the recipe). If you’re feeling naughty, you could also add a splash of citrus-infused vodka to the mix. We like to pour our limonana into glasses garnished with mint. Then we sit in the back yard, sip on our drinks, and dream of dining in the middle of an ancient city on the shores of the Mediterranean…
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- In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of water and sugar. Heat over medium, whisking constantly, till the sugar dissolves. Let the water cool to room temperature.
- In a blender, combine the sugar water, fresh lemon juice, ice, fresh mint leaves and 3/4 cup of water.
- Pulse for a few seconds, then blend for 1 minute till the ice is thoroughly crushed and the drink takes on the texture of a thick slushy. Taste. This recipe produces a mildly sweet limonana, which is the way I like it. Some people like it sweeter. Add sugar to taste, if desired, and blend again.
- Pour into cold glasses and serve. Garnish with sprigs of mint, if desired.
- Note: If you're on a low sugar diet or watching your weight, you can also make this drink with Splenda, stevia, agave, or your favorite low glycemic sweetener. Rather than making the sugar water, add a cup of unsweetened water to the blender (2 cups of water total) and blend the drink without sugar. Add your sweetener of choice to taste, blend again, and serve.