Cucumber & Borage Flower G&T (and a blog birthday)

by Maja Lukic


Veggies & Gin was a year old as of July 22. Did I miss this significant event in the life of my blog because, on that particular day, I was sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico with a little F. Scott Fitz and iced drink in hand? Possibly. But we've already established that I'm a lazy dilettante of a food blogger. 

In any event, to celebrate the belated blog birthday, I made some cooling gin cocktails. This seems appropriate because the idea for starting this blog probably has its origins in a glass of gin on some slow balmy night last summer. 

On vacation last week, I enjoyed days and nights of sweltering gin weather but because rum is king in the Caribbean, I had to wait until I was back in New York to indulge in this gin and cucumber combination. And, by the way, I'm going on record now to claim that I coined the phrase "gin weather" a few years back. If you'd like to dispute that, go ahead--please use the contact form. 

The cucumbers here are of the slim, spindly Asian burpless variety (the name derives from the fact that these varieties contain little to no cucurbitacin, a compound that produces a bitter flavor in other cucumbers and impacts indigestion in some people). If you see them at the market, don't pass them up. They're sweet and fragrant with no trace of bitterness. The thin skin can be prickly but becomes smooth after a good scrub under cold running water. 

And then I was doing my usual run at the market a few weekends ago when I saw these pretty blue and lilac star-shaped Borage flowers. Predictably, I was determined to buy them long before the girls at the stand informed me that Borage flowers taste like cucumbers. They didn't lie, by the way--Borage has a clean, fresh flavor, and plays well in fresh salads or anywhere cucumbers are welcome. The color disparity is due to the age of the flowers--Borage flowers are pale pink/violet when they first open but deepen into twilight blue as they mature. I've also since learned that Borage has healing properties, though I wouldn't assume those benefits hold strong in the presence of clear spirits.

The recipe itself is dead simple and requires no elaboration. You've handled a G&T with skill and grace before and I trust you can handle this one as well. One final note: with this interplay of cucumber flavors, I recommend using Hendrick's gin. Not because it's a special favorite of mine (which it is) but because Hendrick's has those lovely cucumber tones. 

Reflecting on this past year, it's been an interesting experience. My photography has improved from bad to less bad, I've upgraded to a serious camera, and I think I've been better at following instinct and inspiration when it comes to selecting and testing recipes (maybe). I still consider this blog a privilege (my lack of diligence notwithstanding) and a tremendous outlet for creative expression. Thanks for reading and thanks for the support!

Cucumber & Borage Flower Gin & Tonic 

Makes 1 cocktail

1 1/2 oz. gin (Hendrick's)

1/3 cup sliced, unpeeled burpless cucumbers

tonic water

Borage flowers

ice cubes, lime

Muddle cucumber slices in the bottom of a glass with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon. Add ice and a handful of Borage flowers. Pour gin over top and top off the glass with tonic water. Stir and squeeze some fresh lime juice into the cocktail. 

Serve, garnished with additional Borage flowers, if you wish.

Note: Use a decent brand of tonic--anything too harsh and acerbic will overwhelm the cucumber. 


Mango Cucumber and Avocado Salad w/Honey-Lime Vinaigrette

by Maja Lukic


MangoCoverPhoto1

I'm on vacation in Florida this week so naturally my mind turns to light, beach-friendly eats, which is not to say that I haven't indulged in my fair share of Cuban and Peruvian takeout - sweet fried plantains, ceviche, black beans, and fried yucca have all crossed my lips in the last few days and probably will again before I leave. But for the most part, I've been lounging by the pool or on the sand in sweltering heat and craving cool, hydrating snacks. I've had some version of this salad for lunch all week. Sometimes things get weird and I add chickpeas into the mix. And that works for me but you do not have to go there.

Mango Cucumber Avo Salad03

Cilantro is a polarizing little plant so if you really can't bear it, substitute a little mint. (A little goes a long way). I have grown to really love cilantro. In fact, this salad is only a vehicle for me to consume mangoes, lime, and cilantro together.

Mango Cucumber Avo Salad06

I learned something new about cilantro this week but maybe this is not new to you. At the grocery store the other night, I watched an older lady as she lifted bunch after bunch of the green stuff to her nose breathing deeply each time. Finally, she shook her head and said, "Not bad, not great." She explained to me that you can gauge how fresh the cilantro is by its smell - really fresh cilantro has a strong, gorgeous scent.

Mango Cucumber Avo Salad02

Another cilantro tip I picked up in a cooking class recently: no need to remove the stems. With cilantro, a lot of the flavor resides in the stem. This is the complete opposite of parsley where almost all of the flavor is found in the leaves and the stem is virtually tasteless.

Mango Cucumber Avo Salad04

This salad is best served chilled. Feel free to leave out the avocado until the very last minute. Then take it outside and eat it in the sun, preferably on a beach.

Mango Cucumber and Avocado Salad w/Honey-Lime Vinaigrette (gf)

Serves 3-4

1 large cucumber, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes (peeled if not organic)

1 mango, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes

3 medium red plums, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes

1 avocado, cubed

1/2 cup organic cilantro, roughly chopped

1 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)

Honey-Lime Vinaigrette:

2 tbsp fresh lime juice (approx. 1 1/2 to 2 limes)

1 1/2 tbsp honey (or other sweetener for a vegan version - see Note)

1 tbsp olive oil

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together and season with s&p to taste. Toss the salad ingredients (except for the avocado) with the vinaigrette.

Chill for 30 minutes or until ready to serve. Just before serving, add in the avocado and gently incorporate. Serve cold.

Optional: if you want to get weird and maybe you do, add in 1 cup cooked chickpeas for a more substantial meal.

Notes: For a vegan version, substitute the honey in the dressing with maple syrup, coconut nectar, or brown rice syrup. 

Chickpea Mango Salad3

I've been watching the waves and listening to this track all week.