Light-Handed Lemon-Basil Martini

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Basil is starting to fill the markets. Let’s celebrate with pesto.  No! No! I meant to say a lemon-basil martini! Doesn’t that sound better? Pesto can wait…

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For me, classic vodka martinis are too bitter and strong, and sugar rimmed “lemon drops” are too sweet.  Let’s meet somewhere in the middle with a touch of herbaceousness, and welcome the warmer weather (northern hemisphere, anyway) with this cocktail.

One of my joys of going to a restaurant or bar is trying to recreate their best dishes and drinks at home.  Sitting in high-back exotic cane chairs, I first had a lemon-basil martini at E&O Trading Company (now called E&O Kitchen and Bar) in San Francisco. While it’s not truly a martini, this is what E&O called it. What I liked about this cocktail was that it was subtle and not like inhaling a salad or a bag of yard clippings. When using herbs in cocktails, I find you need a light hand.

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Before you ask, we got this enormous cocktail shaker at Bed, Bath and Beyond years ago. It makes about five cocktails at once!

Whether you’re still in mandatory or self-selected home isolation, you can still open a window, breath in some late spring air, and sip away as you dream about better times ahead.


Did you enjoy reading or making the recipe from this post? If so, please give it a “like” or a comment. It would be nice to know you are out there and that my posts connect with you.

Light-Handed Lemon-Basil Martini

  • Servings: 2, scales well
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 2-parts citrus vodka (I used 2 ounces to make two cocktails)
  • 1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used 1 ounce to make two cocktails)
  • 1/4-part simple syrup (I used 1/4 ounce to make two cocktails)
  • 1/4-part triple sec or other orange liquor, optional (I used 1/4 ounce to make two cocktails). I find the addition of an orange flavored liquor rounds out the tartness of lemon and gives the cocktail a little more body. If you prefer a tart drink, feel free to omit this
  • 1 large sprig (about 6 large leaves) of basil, plus more for garnish. After you’ve tried this this way, feel free to adjust up or down the amount of basil to your liking
  • 2 long strips of lemon peel for garnish (peel only, no white pith)
  • Ice


  1. Make simple syrup by bringing to boil in a small pot 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Let it fully cool before using. Refrigerate the leftovers in a jar for up to two weeks
  2. Fill a large cocktail shaker halfway with ice
  3. Place all ingredients except garnishes in cocktail shaker
  4. Shake vigorously for a full 30 seconds. You need this amount of time for the basil to muddle itself and release its oils. Use a towel if your hands get cold 🙂  NOTE: Because this recipe scales so well, you can make a pitcher of these for a party. If you do, gently crush the basil and put it in the pitcher shortly before serving or it will become bitter if left to marinate too long
  5. Strain and pour immediately into chilled martini glasses. Garnish with a small basil leaf and/or a strip of lemon peel

Author: gregnelsoncooks

Visit weekly for original and adapted recipes as well as cooking tips to make your kitchen life easier — and more delicious! I’ll include simple, straight forward instructions along with recipes that are truly worth your time making. And, recipes that elevate the familiar and introduce you to the new and unexpected.

9 thoughts

  1. Hi Greg…I’m a friend of your sisters and really enjoy following your blog posts. I’ve been trying to do more vegan dishes and have enjoyed a number of your dishes. Thanks 😊 for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh My, I am so going to try one of these for the Memorial Day weekend. This drink looks so refreshing.
    FYI-I LOVE your XXXX-Large shaker. Its a group treat.
    Hope you are well and staying sage.

    Liked by 1 person

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