july 18, 2014
In the South, summertime heat can get the best of your intentions to cook dinner. Toss a salad, cut a few ripe tomatoes from the garden, fire up the outdoor grill (anything to avoid heating up the kitchen) and call that dinner. Better yet, serve something you grilled the day before and avoid fire altogether.
Before you tuck into dinner, enjoy a cool, green summer cocktail in the shade of the magenta crape myrtle. Today’s libation = roadside stand meets the hills of Mexico. Let’s make a toast to the inventor of air conditioning. Thank you mightily, Willis Carrier.
Real tequila made from 100% blue agave may be a little more costly than mixtos (made from other sugars and of a lower quality), but so very worth it in flavor and smooth smokiness. Pay a little more for made-in-Mexico reposado (rested) tequila, aged in oak for two months to a year, or anejo (aged), cradled in oak barrels for 1-3 years, and enjoy the real thing; lower quality tequilas have a harsh flavor and an unpleasant afterburn.
Having paid the price for planting invasive mints in the garden many years ago, I learned to plant them instead in large pots on the deck, where my plants thrive and give off a refreshing aroma as I brush by at watering time. Chocolate mint, calamint, peppermint and lemon mint return year after year, asking only for frequent snipping (letting them get leggy invites flowering and less leaf production),a little water here and there and division when they decide which neighbor they want to live with. Iced tea all summer long, fragrant with mint, is my beverage of choice.
Mint simple syrup, an easy concoction of any type of fresh mint, cane sugar and water, keeps for months in the fridge and is the top note of today’s cocktail. It can be used for enlivening iced tea, lemonade, seltzer or drizzled over fresh peaches or berries for a light summer dessert. After you make the simple syrup, add the leaves to a pitcher of your favorite beverage and feel good for reusing and recycling. For other cocktails using simple syrup, see strawberry cilantro cocktail and tangerine rosemary cocktail.
Borrowing from Tom Colicchio of Craft Restaurant in NYC, whose cucumber gin cocktail was recently featured in People Magazine, I made cucumber juice by pureeing a nice fat local cuke and straining out the solids. Be sure to use a local cucumber, or at least an unwaxed organic cuke, since you don’t want to ingest the food grade wax grocers use to prolong shelf life.
For a fabulous non-alcoholic summer drink, omit the tequila and add mint syrup and cucumber juice to sparkling waters, chilled juices or tea.
cucumber mint cocktail
recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company
In blender or food processor, puree one whole large unwaxed cucumber, then strain through a fine mesh to remove solids. Chill well. May be made two days ahead. Makes about one half cup, or enough for four cocktails.
mint simple syrup
In nonreactive small saucepan, add one cup cane sugar to one cup water and stir over medium high heat until mixture comes to boil; allow to simmer for one minute, stirring until sugar is melted, and add one cup loosely packed fresh mint, very coarsely chopped if leaves are large. Allow to steep for 30 minutes; strain syrup into glass jar and use leaves for flavoring other beverages. Chill well. Will last in fridge for several weeks.
for one cocktail
- 2 ounces best quality reposado or anejo tequila
- 1 ounce chilled mint simple syrup
- 1 ounce chilled cucumber juice
Shake or whisk all ingredients together and pour over ice. Garnish if desired with cucumber slice and mint sprig.