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Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

We’ve all been there. You’ve got people coming for brunch, and you’re running around the grocery store with your list, and there at the bottom it just says “JUICE.” You grab the large bottle of orange, maybe one of grapefruit, and go back to hunting down eggs and bacon.

There is no shame in that juice game, they are classic. But I think the traditional citrus juices at brunch tend to fight with the food. They are too sweet against the savory dishes and get bitter and puckery against the sweet dishes. They aren’t refreshing or thirst quenching. And I’d always rather eat my carbs. If I’m indulging in a fabulous brunch full of eggs and cheese and breadstuffs, adding a couple hundred calories per glass of beverage (before adding booze) is not where I want to spend my caloric capital.

There is a reason the bloody mary is such a go-to brunch drink. It is vegetable-forward, savory with a mere backnote of sweetness from the tomato, so it cuts through the richness of your meaty eggy dishes, and provides counterpoint to sweets. Having said that, it isn’t light, nor thirst quenching, and in summer, I just want to serve something a bit more refreshing. Maybe even a bit surprising.

Hence, cucumber juice. Cucumbers have great balance of natural sweetness in the flesh and bitterness in the skin. They are mostly water, so super refreshing, but they also naturally aid in digestion, which is great for a heavy languorous brunch. This juice is super easy to make, lightly sweet, but not cloyingly so, and is delicious on its own over ice, maybe with a squeeze of lime, or as the base for cocktails. It is good friends with gin and vodka, but also surprising with rum or even sparkling wine. If you want something shrublike and a bit more bracing you can add a splash of white wine or cider vinegar. And the deep jade green color is just beautiful.

This multiplies endlessly and can be made up to three days in advance.

Cucumber Juice

For every 2 people you want to serve, makes about 2 cups


1 large English or seedless cucumber (worth it to seek these out, regular cucumbers can get a bit too bitter)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup water


Wash the cucumber and chop into large chunks. Put into a saucepan with the water and sugar and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cook until the cucumber is tender, about 8-10 minutes.

Either put in your blender or use an immersion blender to puree. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a pitcher and taste for sweetness, adjusting with more sugar while the juice is still warm to your desired sweetness. It should be balanced and not sweet-sweet, but every cucumber is different and you don’t want it bitter. Chill at least 4 hours before serving. Put out with sparkling water, lime wedges, and the booze of your choice.