Wet and Wild
My garden consists of a few container pots on my deck, filled with hard-to-kill flowers, mint — and, if I’m feeling adventurous — arugula. My thumb is far from green, but I work the homegrown angle into dishes for guests whenever possible, walking downstairs with freshly picked mint sprigs to throw into salads, or cocktails, a few minutes after they arrive. A regular Martha Stewart, right?
No matter how minimal, it feels pretty awesome to use garden or locally grown fruit and veg in a cocktail — and now is the time to do it.
Adrian Stein, a mixologist at Mistura Restaurant, who spent most of his career in Italian restaurants, gets really creative with garden-fresh ingredients. He crafted “Pie in the Sky,” a savoury cocktail made with tomato water and pizza-infused vodka, rimmed with parmesan and topped with fresh tomato and oregano, for a recent cocktail competition. The clear tipple tasted, rather impressively, like a cheese pizza.
But his favourite garden ingredient is the humble English cucumber. “It’s the best. It brings such a fresh component to any drink. Plus it’s simple, inexpensive and locally grown,” he says. He likes the English variety because it’s the sweetest and juiciest. “Its sweetness works really well with melon or elderflower, and goes great with all white spirits.”
Stein says the easiest way to use cucumber is to peel it until the seeds are showing, then dice and muddle. For a party, consider making a bigger yield of cucumber juice ahead of time instead: take peeled cucumber, soak it in cold water for two hours and then run through a centrifugal juicer.
A no-fail addition to any cucumber-based cocktail is elderflower, says Stein. “St Germain’s elderflower liqueur is known as ‘bartender’s ketchup,’ because you can put it in anything as long as you don’t use too much of it.” He told me about an award-winning cocktail he made using the liqueur, cucumber, gin, blueberries and sage flowers.
That sounded like a good place to start with for this lazy mixologist: I cut out the sage flowers (because who grows those anyway?) and substituted arugula, to add a peppery bite to the sweet, floral drink. I also craved more bitter citrus, so I squeezed in a thin slice of grapefruit and topped it with grapefruit-flavoured soda water.
The drink has a wet, refreshing cucumber aroma and flavour from start to finish. Gin’s prickly juniper notes complemented the sweet floral flavours of elderflower, while the grapefruit soda and juice added bitterness and carbonation to lift cucumber’s fleshier, almost fatty, mouthfeel. The arugula added a peppery aroma but wasn’t as evident in the flavour, so I put a teeny pinch of white pepper on top for more snap — I only advise this if, like me, you really love pepper.
The verdict? Cucumber makes a refreshing backbone for any garden cocktail — and no one needs to know you didn’t grow it yourself.