Tart Spiced Hibiscus Punch… made from alien pods

Alien stars!  Alien stars for sale by the roadside!  Crimson, weird, ribbed, floral, heavy stars, from a basket, from a young woman, for the relatively dear price of 40,000 VND ($2) for about 15.  But what on earth were they?

The mystery was solved via the element of goo that I found after crunching through the sightly fuzzy sour crisp-leaf-shaped outer shell (adventure time!), and the fact that the woman was also selling okra pods.  I figured… some sort of okra variant that was actually glamorous?  I don’t remember the exact google search, but I did figure it out.

It was sorrell.  Jamaican sorrel, or hibiscus.  Which was mad delightful, cause I was already a huge fan of hibiscus, and I’d made infused vodka with the dried chips you can find in latin groceries – bitter and blood red, like meaty rose petals – but I’d never seen these live versions before.

Besides a few fruit massacre photos, the most useful thing I could find to make with them was refreshing kind of punch that’s common in Jamaica.  I suppose it’s not the most Vietnamese thing to do with them, but it did extract all of their tart goodness (while leaving the goo-texture behind), and it let me me stretch fifteen tiny fruit-like things into four whole bottles of sunset-coloured nectar, perfumed with allspice, ginger and cinnamon.  And, although we enjoyed them crispy cold from the fridge with lime, I couldn’t see anything wrong with serving the brew piping hot with a bit spiced rum and a twist of orange.  Weather adaptable!

Hibiscus (Jamaican Sorell) Punch

adapted from Epicurious

  • 2 cups of fresh hibiscus calyxes, or 1 1/2 cups dried
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 5 3/4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups amber rum (optional)
  • 2 cups ice cubes, or to taste (optional)
  • Lime and orange slices for garnish

In a heat-proof bowl combine the sorrel, the ginger, cinnamon, allspice and the cloves. In a saucepan bring 5 cups of the water to a boil, pour it over the sorrel mixture, and let the mixture steep for 4 hours or overnight. While the mixture is steeping, in a small saucepan bring the remaining 3/4 cup water and the sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, and let the syrup cool. Strain the sorrel liquid into a pitcher or bottles, discarding the solids and stir in the sugar syrup.  To serve, add the rum (if using) and the ice cubes (if using), and garnish the punch with the lime and orange slices.

By the way?  I’m a lush for Hanoi vodka (which – while we’re talking about cheap prices – is a mere $1.60 for a bottle).  And the perk about vodka bottles is that once the label is peeled off they make a perfect receptacle + screw cap for fruity home-brew, or fresh boiled drinking water, or ketchup, or sand from beaches or paperclips, or whatever.  Anything!  See, being a drunkard is a gateway to resourcefulness, right?