This week the hot summer Europe has had for the past month has also reached our little country, with temperatures rising to over 36°C! But I come prepared. Iced green tea is cold-brewing in my fridge, my freezer is stacked with the ingredients for mango and turmeric smoothies and I just made a double batch of the most refreshing treat you can think of: this mint-infused cucumber and lime granita.
Granita isn’t only my favourite sort of ice cream. With no need for an ice cream maker, it’s also the easiest one to prepare. The basic mode of preparation is popping sweetened fruit juice in the freezer, then stirring it regularly as it sets to break it into airy crystals. All you need is a few ingredients, a fork and some freezing time to end up with a sophisticated treat that’s equally good for cooling down with on hot summer afternoons as it is to end a leisurely dinner.
As for flavours, the possibilities are endless. Zesty citrus fruits, water melon and red fruit purees make a delicious summery base. For a bold and grown-up treat there’s coffee granita or red wine granita. And you can add interest by infusing the sugar syrup with herbs, flowers and spices like mint, elderflower, lavender or star anise. For this summer treat I combined three flavours which are simply made for each other: mint, lime and cucumber.
If you think of cucumber only as the crisp and watery carrier of vinaigrette in a green salad, you might never guess how distinct a flavour it has on its own. The idea of adding it to a fruity granita I gratefully took from Kate Hackworthy, who uses it as a base for lemon granita in her wonderful book Veggie desserts + cakes. For this lime granita I infused sugar syrup with mint leaves before mixing it with fresh lime juice and cucumber purée. The resulting ice crystals are tart, herby and beautifully full-flavoured. If you’re feeling festive, you could serve them with a splash of gin for a refreshing summer cocktail. But put me and the girls in a shaded part of the garden with a heaped bowl, no booze and a set of spoons and we’re a happy bunch already!
To be fair, when I say “all you need is a fork and some freezing time”, one additional remark is in order. Depending on the power of your freezer, that freezing time can vary considerably, ranging from just 2 to over 7 hours. There have been times my guests were served semi-frozen sorbet slushies because I overestimated my own freezer’s efficiency. So these days I don’t take chances and start the freezing process at least 5 hours in advance, sometimes even the day before. Do so and your patience will be rewarded with beautifully crisp and zesty crystals that burst with flavour and melt in your mouth with every spoonful.
Happy summer days!
Mint-infused cucumber and lime granita – serves 6-8
- 500 ml water
- 250 g cane sugar
- small bunch of fresh mint , leaves picked
- 1½-2 medium cucumbers*), peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks (reserve a few slices as garnish)
- 250 ml fresh lime juice (from about 12-15 limes)
Plus: extra mint leaves and lime slices, to garnish
*) For the most flavourful base, I only use a measured quantity of the the puréed cucumber flesh. Depending on how seedy the cucumber turns out to be, you may need only one cucumber, or 2 after all.
Put the water and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then take off the heat. Add the mint leaves, cover the pan and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Then remove the lid and leave the syrup to cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, strain the sugar syrup through a fine sieve placed over a large bowl, pressing the mint leaves to extract all the flavour. Discard the leaves, then place the sieve over the bowl again.
Using a hand blender or food processor, purée the cucumber chunks. Measure out 250 ml of the cucumber purée and mix with the lime juice. Pour the mixture into the sieve and press it firmly to collect as much of the juice as you can. The remaining cucumber pulp, as well as any left-over cucumber purée, is lovely mixed into a smoothie afterwards.
Stir through the collected mint syrup and fruit juices. Pour the mixture into a shallow freezer container and freeze for 30-60 minutes, until ice crystals start forming around the edges. Break up the crystals with a fork and return to the freezer. Repeat every 30 minutes, for as long as needed for the granita to be completely frozen and made of loose, airy crystals. If at some point the granita freezes too hard to get your fork in, simply let it soften at room temperature for a few minutes, scrape it into crystals again and return to the freezer.
Serve in small (or large!) bowls, garnished with the reserved slices of cucumber and lime and mint leaves.
In stead of breaking it into icy crystals, you can also freeze the base for this granita in ice lolly moulds for a quick and easy summer treat!