Eric Akis In Our Backyard: Raise a glass to alcohol-free cocktails

Eric Akis

In early May, a reader, Patrick, asked if I could do a column on non-alcoholic drinks. I said yes, but would wait until warmer weather came, when a sipping a cool and flavourful drink outdoors would be a most welcomed activity.

The recent heat wave made me declare that time had arrived. So, this past weekend, I got out my blender and cocktail shaker and mixed up some refreshing drinks that did not require alcohol to make them stirring to drink.

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When shopping for ingredients, I saw Vancouver Island strawberries for sale and was certain they would taste divine whirled into a virgin strawberry margarita.

I did that, and accented their flavour with citrus juice and local honey, creating a cool and palate-pleasing drink that was somewhat slushy thanks to the ice also blended in.

Because it was warm and tropical feeling outside, I decided my next booze-freeze cocktail should be a tropical fruit flavoured one. I made the drink by blending fresh mango and banana with pineapple and lime juice, fresh ginger and coconut milk. I called the drink a “tropical dream,” because when I sipped it and closed my eyes I could imagine enjoying it on a Caribbean beach.

My third cocktail, was an alcohol-free twist on a bloody Mary called a bloody bull. The “bull” comes from replacing some of the tomato juice used in a bloody Mary with beef stock. The stock adds a savoury richness to the drink, which is also flavoured with taste-bud-awakening things, such as Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and horseradish.

My last cocktail takes the gin out of a gin and tonic and replaces it with freshly-squeezed cucumber juice. When it is poured, you end up with a light and appealing, summer green drink that’s also attractively garnished with a thin slice of fresh cucumber.

Virgin Vancouver Island Strawberry Margaritas

In this cocktail, ruby-red, full-of-flavour local berries are blended with citrus juice, honey and ice, creating a cool, perfect-for-the- patio drink.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Three drinks

1 lb Vancouver Island strawberries

1 1/2 cup ice cubes (about 12, depending on size)

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup lime juice

2 Tbsp Vancouver Island honey, or to taste

3 lime wedges

Put three large martini or other decorative glasses in the freezer to chill. Set aside three strawberries to garnish each drink. Now hull and slice remaining strawberries and set in a bowl.

Place ice cubes in a blender and pulse until crushed. Add sliced strawberries, juices and honey. Pulse until strawberries are puréed and mixture is slushy.

Divide the mixture between the chilled glasses. Garnish each drink with a whole strawberry and lime wedge, and enjoy.

Tropical Dream

A mixture of tropical fruit flavours and coconut milk make this alcohol-free cocktail a cool and creamy dream to sip.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Two drinks

• ice cubes

1/2 cup cubed, peeled fresh mango (about 1/2 small mango)

1/2 medium banana

1/2 cup cold, unsweetened pineapple juice

1 Tbsp lime juice

1 (165 mL/5.6 oz) can coconut milk (see Note)

1 tsp chopped, peeled fresh ginger

• honey, to taste (optional)

2 to 4 mango slices

2 lime wedges

Fill two, 10-oz. glasses two-thirds full with ice cubes. Place the mango, banana, juices, coconut milk and ginger in a blender and pulse until smooth. Sweeten mixture with honey, if desired. Divide the mixture between the glasses. Garnish the rim of each glass with a mango slice or two and a lime wedge, and serve.

Note: Small, 165-millilitre cans of coconut milk are sold in the Asian foods aisle of many supermarkets.

If you can’t find one, buy a 400-mL can, use a scant 3/4 cup of it for this recipe, and freeze the rest for another time.

Bloody Bull

The “bull” in this virgin-style of a bloody Mary comes from the beef stock that’s mixed into it. It adds a beefy richness to this nicely spiced, tomatoey drink that would be nice to enjoy at a summer brunch.

Preparation time: Five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Two drinks

4 to 6 pickled peperoncini peppers or pimento-stuffed olives

2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp fresh lemon juice (divided)

• celery salt or mixture of coarse sea salt and black pepper, to taste

• ice cubes

1 cup tomato juice

1 cup beef stock or bouillon

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, or to taste

1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce, or to taste

1/2 tsp prepared horseradish

2 lemon wedges

2 celery stalks with leafy tops

Skewer two to three pickled peperoncini peppers (or olives) on each of two small skewers or cocktail picks.

Place 2 tsp of the lemon juice and celery salt (or mix of coarse salt and black pepper) on separate small plates. Invert two tall, 12-oz glasses, and swirl to coat their rims in the juice. Now coat rims with celery salt (or coarse salt and black pepper). Put a celery stalk in each glass, then fill each glass two-thirds full with ice.

Place tomato juice, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, stock (or bouillon), Worcestershire, Tabasco and horseradish in a cocktail shaker and vigorously shake to combine. Divide the mixture between the glasses. Garnish each glass with a lemon wedge and skewer of pickled peperoncini peppers (or olives), and serve.

Cucumber and Tonic

Freeze-squeezed cucumber juice replaces the gin normally added to this style of drink. It’s a light and refreshing beverage, perfect to enjoy on a hot summer day.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Two drinks

1 cup coarsely grated English cucumber (see Note 1)

2 long, thin slices of English cucumber (see Note 1)

1 (12 oz/355 mL) can cold tonic water

• ice cubes

8 fresh mint leaves

2 fresh mint sprigs

2 lime wedges

Set a fine sieve over a bowl. Place the grated cucumber in the sieve. Now very firmly press on the cucumber and squeeze every bit of juice out it (see Note 2).

Set a cumber slice in each of two, 10-oz. glasses. Arrange the slices so they are pressed against the sides of the glass, in spiral-like fashion.

Fill each glass two-thirds full with ice cubes. Divide and pour cucumber juice into each glass and add four mint leaves. Top up each drink with tonic water, garnish with lime wedges and mint sprigs, and serve.

Note 1: Before grating the English cucumber you’ll need for this recipe, cut the slices of cucumber you’ll also need for these drinks. To do so, make a lengthwise cut and trim about 1/4-inch off one side of the cucumber. Now use a wide vegetable peeler to cut two long, thin slices of cucumber and use them as described in the recipe.

Note 2: After squeezing the juice out of it, you can keep the leftover grated cucumber for another use, such as mixing it into a creamy salad dressing, or using it to make tzatziki.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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