Sunday, April 8, 2012

A red granita

I said this again about two weeks ago, I'm not giving up on citrus fruit yet.
When I went to my greengrocer's the other day, I found the most amazing blood oranges looking up at me from one of the stalls, begging me to take them home. It was futile trying to resist them. Of course I ended up with a bagful of them.

On my way home, I was daydreaming of juicing them into ruby-red liquid nectar but then the image switched to that of a luscious green salad dressed with scarlet-colored orange segments. What I actually ended up making, was something totally different and unexpected. A blood orange granita with juniper berries and Dutch jenever.

The recipe I followed called for gin, but living in the country that gave birth to gin or more accurately, jenever, which was later taken by the English and turned into gin, I couldn't use anything less than the original and iconic alcoholic spirit.

Jenever (pronounced jeh-nay-fer) is by far better than its English counterpart and even though I'm by no means an expert in alcoholic drinks, a single try was enough to convince me of its superiority. There are two types of jenever, oude (old) and jonge (young), yet this distinction has nothing to do with the age of the spirit but rather the process of its distillation.

Jonge jenever is the mildest-tasting of the two. It has a dry, neutral flavor, reminiscent of vodka or the Greek tsipouro, and it's clear-colored, much like gin, whereas oude jenever is caramel-colored and more aromatic. It has a robust, malty, sweet and full flavor, and taste-wise, bears a similarity to whiskey. Both these types of jenever are made with the addition of juniper berries, which give it its unique flavor, and actually jenever means juniper in Dutch.

I'm not very much accustomed to using juniper berries in my cooking as they're not common in Greek cuisine but ever since I came to Holland, I discovered their unique qualities and they swiftly became a staple in my spice rack. I have used them with venison and in marinades for pork and beef—their pungent and piney aroma and taste complement game and red meat well—, but this was the first time I was using them in a dessert, and a granita at that.

The blue-black dried berries manage to give such an earthy quality to the zingy citrus-based granita, that it is quite remarkable. The blood orange, with its bright color and even brighter flavor, the gently spiced sugar syrup and the addition of jenever, make this granita refreshing, rejuvenating, slightly boozy and not too sweet. The ideal palate cleanser after all the meat consumed at the Easter table, don't you think?

Blood Orange Granita with Juniper Berries and Dutch Jenever
Adapted from The Wall Street Journal

The original recipe calls for gin but I opted for jonge jenever. Don't use oude jenever because it has a different taste.

In Greece, you can buy dried juniper berries at spice stores. In Holland, you can find them in every super-market.

To make this suitable for kids, omit the jenever/gin from the recipe.

Yield: 6-8 servings

1 tsp dried juniper berries (15-17 berries)
230 ml water
115 g caster sugar
470 ml blood orange juice, freshly squeezed
45 ml Dutch jonge jenever (or gin)

Special equipment: mortar and pestle or rolling pin, sieve, shallow baking tray or dish 33 x 24 cm in size (approximately)

Crush the juniper berries in a mortar and pestle or with a rolling pin. Place them in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan along with the water and caster sugar. Set saucepan over medium-high heat and stir the sugar until it dissolves. Bring to the boil, turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let juniper berries steep until the syrup has cooled completely.

In the meantime, squeeze the blood oranges and pour the juice into a medium-sized bowl. Pass the cool syrup through a sieve and into the blood orange juice. Discard the juniper berries.
Add the jenever or gin and stir well with a spatula.

Pour the mixture into a large, shallow baking dish or tray, large enough that the liquid isn't more than 3-4 cm deep. I used a 33 x 24 cm tray and it worked well. If you use a smaller tray, the granita will take a very long time to freeze, which is not good.
Place the tray in the freezer for 1 hour, until the liquid turns slushy. Take it out of the freezer and scrape the granita with a fork, breaking up the ice, and put it again in the freezer. Repeat the same process every hour, until the granita is completely frozen. This will take about 4 hours, depending on how strong your freezer is.

Scrape the frozen granita with one or two forks and scoop it into bowls or glasses, chilled if you want. Serve immediately.

The granita will keep in the freezer for many days, as long as it is covered well with cling film. Naturally, the first few days, it's at its best.

Happy Easter to everyone who is celebrating today! For us Greeks, Easter Week starts tomorrow and Easter is next Sunday!


  1. What a fabulous granita! We can still find blood orange here in Beirut and I have them as often as I can juiced from juice stalls in the street or in the market; love the idea of adding juniper berries which can be found here in the mountains (wild).

  2. Mmm what a delightful combination! I love the use of the juniper berries, and I did not know the Dutch invented gin.

  3. I am so fan of granita--- eating them all year long!
    Lovely color and so interesting combo!
    I am absolutely making it!

  4. As you may know I have been having a love affair with blood oranges this winter. Yes, a love affair...and Wouter is aware of it...and he is okay with it. I started buying them and could not stop. I made little tarts that showed up in one of my blogs a month or so ago. I have a "blood orange-cello" brewing in my closet as I write this...and I made some fine jam with these beauties. That is why this particular post made me so happy. Your photos are beautiful, your idea is genius and that you used Dutch jenever (which our Dutch/American household would not be without) makes this recipe even more special.

  5. I love granita and have been meaning to make some for a while and now you have me inspired. Love the flavors and the jenever is intriguing! We had a bottle from Italy and I am so curious as to what it can do paired with blood oranges. Wonderful granita!

  6. taste of beirut — wild juniper berries? So exciting! I'm wondering if those can be found in Greece...

    Banana Wonder — yes they did!

    Nenou — I eat ice cream and granitas all year long too!

    Teresa — I'm sure your husband is going to love this granita. Being a Dutchman I'm sure he'll appreciate the flavor of jenever. Blood orange-cello sounds fantastic!

    Jamie — jenever from Italy? That's strange :)

  7. The color is amazing and I am sure the taste was even better. I love how everybody is in a granita/ice cream mood! Summer is on its way!

  8. What a wonderful combination of flavours and perfect for hot summer nights. I didn't know that gin was invented in Holland either. Kali Anastassi kai Kalo Pascha.

  9. Perfection! I could bake and cook with blood oranges all year long if possible.... And this is one recipe I need to add to my list!


  10. Oh my. What a stunning color! I feel very cold with the weather, but won't mind a serving now!