The Vegetable Diaries: Cucumber Lime Agua Fresca


At this time last year I was in Mexico.

Wait, no.

I was in Chicago. But seeing as I've spent almost no time in the Midwest, I'll assume the two places are very similar.

What I do know for certain is that, on this particular occasion, I'd been invited to a brunch at the home of a young, newlywed couple from Mexico City. Knowing almost no one there, I went where I often feel most comfortable -- the kitchen.

It was inside that small, steamy space that I was transported to a different part of the world, taken from the hosts' current apartment and placed in their former hometown. My Espanol Dos classes didn't take me very far that morning (because there was just no need for me to ask "Donde esta la biblioteca?"), so I watched them flip tortillas, stir peppers and scramble a number of eggs that is higher than I can count to in a second language. What I enjoyed most, besides the food, of course, was seeing this duo's interpretation and adaptation of their culinary traditions. It made me want to invite them over for lox and bagels.

All of the stove-gazing left me drained and parched, so I grabbed a glass of the single greatest mixed drink I've ever had in my entire life. Sweet, tart, sour, and maybe even a little salty, it was a perfect refresher and exactly what I needed. It was also some kind of secret recipe, so don't expect to find it below.

Instead, embrace these never-ending August heat spells with another warm weather hydrator, agua fresca. This popular Mexican beverage usually contains blended fruits, sugar and water. In this recipe, however, I used cucumbers because of their ability to instantly cool the body while rehydrating it. I also swapped out the sugar for agave, a natural sweetener that will not cause as dramatic a spike on the glycemic index.

Besides being incredibly water-dense vegetables, cucumbers contain vitamin C and caffeic acid, which have tremendous anti-inflammatory properties (the logic behind placing slices on your eyes). And before you peel and toss cucumber skin, consider that it contains fiber, potassium and magnesium. 

Drink this with friends and a fajita.

Cucumber Lime Agua Fresca
This recipe calls for straining the drink before serving. Unless you want a mouthful of cucumber bits and mint leaves, it's an important step. To make a spicier beverage, leave out the mint and add in half of a seeded Serrano chilie. For other refreshers -- in Popsicle form! -- check Mark Bittman's recipes for the Fruity, Savory, Creamy and Boozy.

(Makes 2 Quarts)

  • 5 English cucumbers, peel-on, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 5 or 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 1/8 cup agave
  • 2 cups water
  • Ice cubes

In a blender, combine all ingredients and puree. Pour mix through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Serve cold. Keeps in fridge for 2 days.

Mallory Stuchin, a native Manhattanite, is a freelance food and health writer. She studied Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, India and has taught classes at PURE Yoga and New York University. She is also a Natural Foods Chef  and has worked for Mario Batali. Her writing has previously been featured in The New York Observer, Glamour and Maxim, as well as other publications in New York and Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter @malstuch.

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