What is a "Shrub?"
Shrub, also known as drinking vinegar, is an infusion of fruit or herbs into a mixture of vinegar and sugar. This creates a sweet and sour flavor bomb, and this concentrate is used to dilute into water or cocktails to add a nice pop. The standard formula is to use equal parts fruit, sugar and vinegar, but I typically cut the sugar in half to make it less sweet and syrupy, with more emphasis on the tart flavor.
Why make or even drink shrubs?
Because it is a bit sweet, a shrub with some sparkling water is a good soda substitute or way to make flavorful cocktails or "mocktails" without so much sugar. I also love them as a way to use fruits, herbs and even veggies from my garden in a different way, and a new way to eat seasonally.
On the health side, shrubs are supportive of digestion as vinegar, especially raw vinegar, confers health benefits on its own. High-quality, raw vinegar is a source of organic acids, enzymes, and post-biotics, which are health-promoting metabolites created during the fermentation process. Vinegar itself is not necessarily probiotic, despite being a fermented food, because of its extremely high acidity. However, it is still great for digestion and more.
If you are interested in fermenting your own vinegar to use in your homemade shrub (especially during apple season right now!), check out the book Homebrewed Vinegars by Kirsten Shockey, a fermentation queen.
You can make shrubs with pretty much any fruit or herb you like, such as apple, rhubarb, berries, or basil. I like this celery shrub as it tends more savory, where most shrubs are quite sweet when made with fruit. Plus, it adds some minerals and phytochemicals to your beverage as well! Certainly, this is still a bit sweet due to the use of sugar, but less so, plus it has an herby quality as well that I love.
Celery Lime Shrub
Makes 2 cups
2 cups sliced celery (can include leaves)
1 cup unrefined cane sugar
1 cup raw apple cider vinegar
1 cup white wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Variation: Celery-Apple Shrub
For a milder, sweeter shrub, use 1 cup diced green apple for 1 of the cups of celery, keeping the other ingredients the same.
1. Chop the celery and place in a 1 quart glass jar.
2. Add the lime and sugar and stir to coat the celery.
3. Pour the vinegars over the celery and seal with a plastic lid.
4. Shake vigorously to dissolve the sugar into the vinegar and letting the celery begin to macerate.
5. Let sit for 5-7 days at room temperature to infuse the vinegar with the celery.
6. Strain out the solids and return the liquid to your jar. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use; this will keep for about 1 year in the fridge.
What Can You do with Your Shrub?
Now that you have this super tasty concoction, what can you do with it? You can add 1-2 ounces to still or sparkling water for a flavor boost to plain water, or add to a cocktail to create something unique and delicious. Below are some recipes I've brewed up using my Celery Shrub. Celery is naturally quite salty, so a pinch of salt in these recipes really brings that quality out...feel free to do a salted rim instead if you're feeling fancy!
Super Celery Mocktail
12-16 oz. lime or lemon sparkling water (we use Sparkle which is local to here, but feel free to use Spindrift, Topo Chico, etc.)
2 Tbs celery lime shrub
Squeeze of lime juice
Sprig of fresh mint (I will sometimes stick the leafy top of a celery stalk in there, too!)
Pinch sea salt
Fill a tumbler with ice to your liking. Add the shrub, lime juice, and salt. Stir gently. Pour the cold sparkling water over the top and garnish with a sprig of mint or other herb such as basil.
Herbal Celery Cocktail
2 oz herbaceous gin (We often use Prairie organic gin, but use your favorite here)
1-2 oz celery shrub
4-6 ounces sparkling water, plain or flavored
2-3 dashes bitters
In the bottom of a cocktail glass, muddle a small handful of celery leaves with the pinch of salt. Add ice to the glass, then pour in the gin, shrub and sparkling water. Add a few dashes of bitters and serve with a lime wedge.
Cheers to your health!
For those who are looking for easy, tasty dishes to sneak some organ meats into their diet, this recipe is for you! Laab (also spelled laap or larb) is a Thai meat-based salad that combines flavorful ground meat and fresh vegetables, served in lettuce cups.
This is typically served with sticky rice, but we will often make rice noodles to go with them instead if we are looking for a quick-cooking dinner. You could leave the rice or noodles out if you follow a grain-free diet, however, and just add more vegetables to the filling.
Laab has become a staple at our house, as it is comes together quickly and easily. This dish creates a nice vessel for organ meats and is so delicious that everyone in my house loves it. This is probably the most-requested meal from my husband, which I would say is a glowing review! If you love Thai flavors like ginger, fish sauce, and fresh herbs like cilantro and mint, I encourage you to give this one a try. You get a meal that is full of fresh vegetables, as well as protein and healthy fats, plus it is easy to serve to a crowd and they can make their own lettuce cups.
If you have nice lettuce leaves available you can serve the meat-and-veggie mixture in those, or try the filling in napa cabbage leaves during the cooler months when lettuce isn't in season. We have also made this filling and put it into spring rolls or mixed it with rice noodles to make a pack-able cold lunch as well. Another modification is that, if you don't eat pork, you could make this with ground chicken instead, using chicken, beef, or lamb organs.
Why Add the Organ Meats?
The addition of heart and liver is certainly optional here, but I would encourage you to try and add them in if possible. Organ meats are more nutrient-dense than muscle meat, providing more vitamins and minerals in your meal than when just cooking with muscle meat alone.
Liver is high in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, as well as vitamins B12 and B6, choline, iron and folate. Some of these nutrients can be difficult to get, even in a "whole food-based" diet, unless adding in liver or other organs 1-2 times per week. Hearts are also very nutritious, offering the antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), known for benefiting heart and brain health, but with few dietary sources.
With all of the flavors and textures in this recipe, you can hardly tell they are in there, which may be preferable for family or friends who want to eat organ meats but aren't huge fans of the taste and texture. Liver and heart can be chopped or ground, then incorporated into any seasoned ground meat to create nutrient-dense recipes (think chili, tacos, etc.), and is such an easy way to get your 1-2 weekly doses of organs.
Using organic and/or pasture-raised sources of organs is important, both to avoid hormone and antibiotic-laden conventional meat, but also to ensure a higher nutrient content and better quality of life for the animals used for their meat. Check with your local health food store or local farmers to purchase high-quality organ meats, as they are likely not available at conventional grocery stores.
Pork Laab with Heart and Liver
For the meat filling:
2 Tbs coconut oil
1 small red onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1" fresh ginger, minced
2 tsp toasted rice powder, optional--available at Asian grocery stores or online
1 lb ground pastured pork
4 ounces chicken livers (can use any animal liver), finely chopped
4 ounces heart, any animal, chopped or ground
1-2 tsp Sriracha hot sauce, or substitute red chili flakes to taste
1 1/2 tsp fish sauce (I use Red Boat brand)
2 Tbs lime juice
For the vegetable mixture:
4 cups shredded cabbage
2 medium carrots, grated
4 scallions, sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
~1 tsp fish sauce
2 Tbs lime juice
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
Garnishes: extra chopped fresh cilantro, sliced scallions, lime wedges, and chopped peanuts
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Fish sauce or organic soy sauce
Sticky white rice or cooked rice noodles
Butter lettuce leaves or cabbage leaves
1. In a medium skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. When melted and hot, add in the onions. Saute 5-8 minutes until softened and beginning to brown, stirring regularly. Add the garlic, ginger, and toasted rice powder (if using) and cook for 3-5 more minutes.
2. Add the ground pork and chopped organ meats to the pan. Break up the meat as best you can, so it can cook evenly and begin to brown. Cook, stirring regularly, until all of the pink is gone, about 10-12 minutes. Then, continue to let the meat cook without stirring often to allow the meat to brown and crisp.
3. Add the hot sauce, fish sauce and lime juice to the browned pork, letting the liquid de-glaze the pan and stirring to get all of the crispy meat bits off the bottom of the pan.
Remove pan from the heat and set aside until ready to add to the vegetable mixture.
4. While the meat is cooking, prepare the vegetable mixture and lettuce cups.
Combine the cabbage, carrots, scallions, cilantro, and mint in a large mixing bowl. Wash and dry the lettuce or cabbage leaves for serving, then set aside.
5. When then pork is cooked, add to the cabbage mixture. Season with the rest of the fish sauce and lime juice, to taste, then stir to combine. Toss in peanuts just before serving to keep them crunchy.
6. Serve with cooked rice or rice noodles in prepared lettuce cups, garnishing with extra herbs, peanuts, and sauces as desired.
Note: The meat and veggie filling can be made ahead of time to serve later, but is best when served fresh and warm. Leftover filling will keep for several days in the fridge, and makes great leftovers mixed in with rice or noodles for a quick salad to bring for your lunch!
Brine & Broth
I am a gut health-focused nutritionist and online health coach based in Southwest Wisconsin. My recipes and philosophies center around traditional, nutrient-dense foods that support robust gut health.