It’s been a hot summer here in the mitten state. And when I say hot, I mean, it has pretty much sapped my will to live. Going outdoors is a serious expedition. Water bottles are required just to survive until the AC kicks on in the car.
For many reasons, but also because of this insane heat, I decided to take a little break from blogging this summer. A little break which turned into a two-month disappearance-from-the-face-of-the-interwebs. Suffice to say, my inspiration was lacking and I felt it was best to back off and give myself a chance to recharge. And my favorite way to do that, lately, has been sitting down with a good book and a cool, refreshing beverage.
I didn’t think mojitos could get much more refreshing than they already are. They’re right up there with arctic-cold iced tea, bubbly sodas, lemonade, and mint juleps piled high with crushed ice. Mojitos have everything I want in a summer drink: ice, fizz, plenty of lime juice, and more than a little fresh mint. How can it get more thirst-quenching than that? The answer: cucumber.
Have you ever had a food — a smell, or a flavor — that brings back the strangest memory?
For me, cucumber reminds me of when I was nine or ten years old, hanging out at my best friend’s house and watching as he opened the fridge and pulled out a pitcher of water with slices of cucumber floating in it.
This is the same friend who would later introduced me to such culinary wonders as grating fresh parmesan cheese over hot popcorn, and adding frozen peas to macaroni and cheese. Things I still happily do to this day, but which, at the time, I gazed at with wide, wondering eyes as he opened my mind, and my stomach, to new things.
It took me a while to be wide-eyed and wondering, though, because standing there in front of his fridge, the only thing I recall being was skeptical. Clearly he thought cucumbers in water was perfectly normal, and went ahead to pour us each a glass. I, on the other hand, had never seen such a thing in my life. Why would anyone put cucumbers in water? What was the point? Not wanting to be rude, I said nothing and took a sip. And, not to be over-dramatic or anything, but my whole world changed. The water was so much more than just water. It was somehow lighter, more refreshing, subtly floral tasting… things my nine-year old mind couldn’t quite comprehend or put words to.
Now, of course, I realize that steeping cucumbers in water is a popular trend. But back then, it was totally revolutionary. Come to think of it, I owe a lot to that friend for stirring within me a quiet curiosity about food. Popcorn with parm and macaroni with peas might seem basic, but as a child who took most of what I ate for granted, they were the first little nudges that would later lead toward my love of food and passion for cooking. It’s funny how something so small — yet so big — can be buried in your memory, just waiting to resurface at the taste of cucumbers in water.
Now a’days I make cucumber water — and other kinds of flavored water — all throughout the summer to stay cool and hydrated. A favorite combination is cucumber, mint, and a few slices of lemon or lime. Really, it was only a matter of time before I took it a step further and added booze.
Mojitos are a fast and straightforward cocktail to make, so it’s hard to mess them up… but I do have a few tips for taking them from good, to great.
First, always use fresh lime juice, not the bottled stuff. Fresh juice taste better every time. I’ve taken to keeping a baggie of lime wedges in my fridge for just this purpose.
Second, when you muddle the ingredients, make sure the mint is on the bottom, this way it doesn’t get beaten up too badly and become bitter.
And third, use simple syrup instead of regular sugar. As the name suggests, simple syrup is really, really simple — just equal parts sugar and water. Having the sugar already dissolved means not having to wait for it to do so in your drink. Instant mojito gratification!
What’s your favorite summer cocktail? Let me know in the comments below!
- 6-7 fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- 2-3 thin slices english cucumber (aka, hothouse or seedless cucumber), plus more for garnish
- ½ lime, cut into quarters
- 2 oz. white rum
- 1 oz. simple syrup*
- sparkling water or club soda
- Fill a rocks glass with ice, and, if you'd like, add a few leaves of mint and a slice or two of cucumber for garnish.
- In a cocktail shaker, add the mint leaves, cucumber, and lime wedges, making sure the mint is on the bottom. Muddle well to release all of the juice from the lime.
- Add the rum and simple syrup to the shaker, and fill with ice. Slap on the lid, and shake vigorously for ten seconds or so.
- Strain the cocktail into the glass, and top off with sparkling water or club soda.
- Sip, and enjoy!
Tips for an extra awesome mojito (or any cocktail, for that matter):
1. Always use fresh lime juice, not the bottled stuff. Fresh juice tastes better every time. I've taken to keeping a bag of lime wedges in my fridge for quick cocktails anytime.
2. When you muddle the mint and lime (and cucumber, in this recipe), always make sure the mint is on the bottom, this way it doesn't get beaten up too badly and become bitter.
3. If you aren't in the mood for cucumber, leave it out and use this recipe to make a killer classic mojito. Or...
4. Simple syrups are a great place to infuse flavors and mix up any drink you add them to. Try steeping herbs like rosemary or thyme in simple syrup (like this recipe, or this one), or use fruit juice instead of water. I'm not sure you can call it a mojito anymore, but I especially love using homemade grenadine (pomegranate syrup) in place of the regular simple syrup. It adds an extra oomph of flavor, and a pretty pink hue, too. You can find my recipe for grenadine right here.
Special thanks to my friend Tammy, who makes the best mojitos I've ever tasted, for sharing some of her tips with me. If you live in the Ann Arbor area and want to up your cocktail game, she hosts occasional cocktail classes throughout the year and you can check out her schedule here.