Mango Cucumber and Avocado Salad w/Honey-Lime Vinaigrette

by Maja Lukic


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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


Gin Gimlet w/ Homemade Raw Lime Cordial

by Maja Lukic


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Perfectly ripe strawberries and blackberries from farmers market, bright homemade raw lime syrup (no Rose's, please), and my old standby, Hendrick's, form a perfect fusion of summer flavors. For anyone who has ever wondered about the lack of gin on the blog to date, this post is for you.

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The idea for this post came about a few weeks ago when I saw a gin gimlet on a cocktail menu. For a long time, I was convinced that the gimlet was my favorite cocktail. In the last few years, I've discovered other cocktails and my tastes have changed (gin & Yellow Chartreuse is a current obsession).

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A gimlet has two components: gin and lime cordial. There are vodka gimlets out there but I do not drink them. For such a simple little cocktail, a gimlet can be a difficult thing to order. Allegedly, the classic recipe calls for equal parts Rose's lime juice and gin. Rose's lime juice essentially consists of water, high fructose corn syrup, sodium metabisulfite, lime juice concentrate, and Blue No. 1. Accordingly, it makes cocktails taste like sour lime candy dissolved in rubbing alcohol.

For this reason, some mixologists prepare gimlets with fresh lime juice and simple syrup instead of Rose's. (Always insist on lime juice and sugar/simple.). But this provokes criticism from purists who argue that without Rose's, it's technically not a true gimlet. It's some other beast.

I'll let the mixology geeks work that out. In the meantime, we can respect our ingredients and come up with something a little bit more flavorful. Enter: homemade lime cordial. Using a recipe from The New York Times as a base, I set about making my own purer version of a classic gin gimlet.

What I love about the Times recipe is that the cordial is raw. There is no need to cook the syrup for 20 minutes as most recipes suggest. As a result, the end product is bright and bursting with fresh lime flavor.

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A gimlet recipe is and always will be a mere suggestion. The cordial is truly the only part that requires some precision but you have some freedom to experiment there as well (note that the Times recipe suggests the addition of ginger - delicious). To make your gimlet, you can stick to the classic  proportions (equal parts gin and lime) but I recommend adjusting the sweetness to suit your tastes. In fact, I generally prefer a 2:1 ratio of gin to lime.

Gin Gimlet w/ Homemade Raw Lime Cordial

Adapted from The New York Times 

Makes 1 cocktail

Gimlet:

2 to 3 oz. gin

1 to 1 3/4 oz. Raw Lime Cordial (see below) lemon wedge

lime twist

Raw Lime Cordial:

6 limes

3/4 cup organic brown sugar (or other sugar)

To prepare the lime cordial: Zest and juice all six limes. In the end, depending on how juicy your limes are, you should have approximately 3/4 cups of juice or roughly equal parts lime juice and sugar. Add the sugar to the juice and stir until fully dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the zest. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Strain the cordial and return to the fridge for another 24 hours, after which it will be ready to use. You can store the cordial in the fridge.

To prepare the gimlet: There are two methods. You can either stir the gin and lime cordial together with ice and strain into a martini glass or you can simply stir them together over plenty of ice in an old-fashioned glass. Either way is fine. Adjust the sweetness to your liking. Squeeze a lemon wedge into the cocktail and serve with a fancy lime twist. 

Once I mastered the basic gin gimlet, I decided to elevate the whole thing and depart from tradition with some ripe summer berries. The sweetness of the fresh berries mellows out the tart taste of the cordial in a lovely, pleasing way, and the colors are stunning. You can use any berries here. I happened to have blackberries and strawberries on hand but blueberries and raspberries would work well, too.

To prepare a berry-flavored gimlet, simply muddle 1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh berries in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, gin, and lime cordial, as described above, stir well, and strain into a martini glass. If using blackberries, you may want to shake and then strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.

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I definitely prefer the strawberry.

Drinking gin always makes me feel like listening to either something old and jazzy or The National. Or both: