Pomegranate and Harissa Make a Refreshingly Complex Mezcal Cocktail


I struggle with pomegranates. I know, I know, there are all kinds of tricks for getting at the seeds, and Kenji even made a video about how to get them out under water to avoid making a huge mess. But let's be real: I rarely feel compelled to make the effort. These days, that's because I'm saving all my pomegranates for a fantastic cocktail created by Los Angeles bartender Gaby Mlynarczyk.

Gaby sent me the recipe for the agave chapter of The One-Bottle Cocktail: More than 80 Recipes With Fresh Ingredients and a Single Spirit, and it was one of the drinks that first convinced me that you could make truly complex, modern cocktails without access to a bartender's fancy liqueur and bitters collection.

The key, as with so many good-tasting things, is layering complementary and contrasting flavors. This drink is at an advantage, since it starts with mezcal, one of the most fascinating spirits we have access to. Good mezcal is savory, herbal, earthy, and sometimes even reminiscent of olive oil. And this cocktail, in fact, was inspired by a salad Gaby tasted that combined pomegranate, harissa, and rose water. That set of flavors—earthy, tangy, spicy, floral—cover all the bases, especially when brightened with a touch of lemon and seasoned with a sprinkle of flaky salt.

You can make this drink with any unsweetened 100% pomegranate juice, which is pretty widely available these days from brands like POM Wonderful and Knudsen. Don't use a juice blend; you're looking for straight pomegranate here. But I really urge you to pick up a few whole fruits instead, because this drink is mind-blowing when made with just-squeezed juice.

There's no seed-picking involved. Just cut the whole fruit into rough chunks or quarters and place the wedges seed-side-out in your hand citrus squeezer. (You want the hinged type for this; I like the one from Chef'n, though there are others.) Squeeze your juice into a measuring cup and use it as soon as you can. (It would be fine refrigerated in a sealed container for an hour, but after that, you might as well just use bottled juice instead.) The fresh juice is intense and bright in a way that's worth experiencing.

Once you have your fresh juice, you'll shake it with mezcal, lemon, simple syrup, harissa, rose water, and a splash of aquafaba, which you might remember from Kenji's egg-free pancake and mayo recipes. Be sure to use a low-sodium version if you're using canned chickpeas, as you don't want to get the drink overly salty. If you don't want to fuss with chickpeas, it's fine to use regular egg white instead, unless you're making drinks for vegans.

The final drink is a little spicy, a little earthy, a little tart, and softly floral. So the real struggle is waiting until tomorrow to make another.