By guest blogger Seanan Forbes
(photo courtesy Jeffery Noble)
Are you looking for a summer cooler? Buy cucumbers - for the cocktail glass.
'Tis the season. For proof, look no farther than June - not the month. June, 4450 N. Prospect Rd. in Peoria Heights, is as seasonally driven as a restaurant can be. If it's local and fresh in the farms, then it's probably in June's kitchen - in the kitchen and behind the bar.
Rafael Tenjo is June's general manager, sommelier and mixologist. "I went down to the farmer's market last year, when I created this cocktail - and I saw these amazing cucumbers that were horn-shaped, almost twisted," Tenjo says. He didn't even try to resist them. He used them with Hendrick's gin and tonic.
Back up a step. Horned cucumbers? Lyle Allen, executive director of Green City Market, says there's more to cucumbers than those long, green shrink-wrapped things you see in the supermarkets. He's hooked on the variety from Green Acres Farm (cheat sheet after the jump) and on Iron Creek Farms' pickle cucumbers. ("They're not pickled; they're just small," Tamera Mark, of Iron Creek Farms, says. "They have a stronger taste versus the bigger cucumbers that have more water in them and are a little milder.")
Taste your way around Green Acres Farm's "cucumber island" display and you'll learn that your cucumber, as well as your liquor, can affect your drink.
It might not be that important when it's just a garnish, but Tenjo didn't stop at slice-and-salt. He looked at those cucumbers and thought, "I can make a cocktail with that."
The first step: juicing the cucumbers. Tenjo wanted a floral component, so he reached for St. Germaine, an elderflower liqueur. "Then it needed acid," he says, "so I decided to add a scoop of sorbet." Salted cucumber slices were one of Tenjo's favorite childhood snacks. That led to the garnish.
One customer described June's cucumber cocktail as "a spa in a glass." Tenjo pairs it with carrot soup served as a spuma with matcha green tea sorbet and sake-cured steelhead roe. At home, serve your spa with "sashimi, crudo, anything light," Tenjo suggests. "It'd go with a light salad."
Use cucumbers to make traditional cocktails new. Allen says, "I had dinner at Rick Bayless' house about two weeks ago and he made cucumber margaritas - and they were gorgeous."
You've put work into the drink; keep the salad simple. "I just love cucumbers with red onions, dill and rice wine vinegar," says Allen, who has year-round access to the best. "That's all you need; it's so refreshing. The pickle cucumbers stay crisp. With the red onions, it doesn't get much better than this. It tastes like summer."
Recipe and cucumber guide after the jump.
The Cucumber Cocktail
MAKES 1 DRINK
1 1/4 ounces Death's Door organic gin or Hendrick's gin
1 ounce St. Germaine elderflower liquor
4 ounces fresh juiced organic cucumber
Splash of sour mix Taste of Florida
Shake ingredients and pour over ice. Top with a scoop of Meyer lemon sorbet or Häagen Dazs lemon sorbet. Garnish with a fresh, lightly salted cucumber slice.
A brief guide to cucumbers, courtesy of Beth Eccles, co-owner of Green Acres Farm:
Armenian: Long and big, they're actually part of the melon family
Japanese: More like European, relatively seedless
European: Usually wrapped individually in a store - nice crunchiness, a few seeds, probably tend to be juicier
Indian: "Probably the ugliest one of the bunch. It's like a dark-yellow, orange color on the outside. People probably look at them and think they're old. Juicy, crispy, the seeds melt in your mouth. They are, with chefs, our number-one-selling cucumber."
American: The ones you see all over the store
Lemon: Round and yellow; it doesn't taste lemony at all
Diva: Looks like the American, but slender and smooth; Bruce Sherman of North Pond has a standing order, twice a week
Little pickling cucumber: "We call them pickles at the booth."