Cool stuff for hot weather

pickling and Amira cucumbers side by side

This hot weather has me looking for cool things–ways to beat the heat. Cucumber is one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of cool, refreshing things–with tomatoes in salad, or with mangos. But thinking really cold, I started  skulking through my old recipes for a dimly remembered recipe for cucumber sorbet with eucalyptus honey.

Eucalyptus honey is fairly dark, with an assertive earthy, spicy flavor with a slightly cool overtone like mild menthol. For some it might be called medicinal, but I found it an interesting combination, with the cool cucumber plus the extra little kick of coolness from the eucalyptus honey. (If you don’t have eucalyptus honey, this sorbet will still be tasty.)

Problem–someone (no names here) didn’t write down the quantities or the source of this recipe–or maybe it was an off-the-cuff invention with whatever was around at the time that obviously included eucalyptus honey.

So, some research. Going to The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz (one of my two favorite sources on frozen dessert stuff), and Jenis Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer (my other ice cream favorite) I found what I needed to fill in the missing quantities for the sorbet.

Cucumber and Eucalyptus Honey Sorbet

Ingredients

  • 2 English or Japanese cucumbers–about 2 pounds–coarsely chopped
  • 5 ounces eucalyptus* honey
  •  1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of salt

Preparation and notes

  • I prefer the English or Japanese cucumbers because you don’t need to remove seeds. This would take about 2 cucumbers. Peeling is not necessary. If you have slicing cucumbers, remove seeds.
  • Combine honey and water; heating is not necessary.
  • Combine ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.
  • Pour into prepared ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions
  • To make without an ice cream maker, use the method for granitas: pour into a shallow baking dish and place in the freezer. Stir with a fork about every 30 minutes until firm. (This breaks up ice crystals although the texture will not be as fine as with an ice cream maker–but still tasty.)

*A note on honey: Eucalyptus honey is a varietal honey; made from the nectar that bees collect from flowering eucalyptus trees. It is not an “infused” or “flavored” honey–those are made by adding flavoring to wildflower honey. I found the eucalyptus honey in my local Harris Teeter grocery store, next to the orange blossom and wildflower honey.

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Some other interesting recipes that I found whilst trolling the internet:

 

 

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Cucumber mango salad

Photograph of 7 mangoes in case with PLU stickers

mangoes

Yesterday I had a minor food crisis–fruit overload.  I went to Costco (for cat food and laundry detergent) but while walking past the huge stacks of produce I smelled first peaches, and then pears–and then there were the mangoes. The difficult decision was pears or peaches, and/or mangoes.  The pears won over peaches though the peaches smelled as good as the pears, but the price was such that I brought both mangoes and pears home with me. Both were much more reasonably priced than in the supermarket. So it was a no-brainer–I eat all the pears and mangoes that I want and share some with friends and I’m still ahead on the cost. (The pears were absolutely luscious–every bit as good as they actually smelled!)

bartlett pears in case (from costco)

Bartlett pears

That quantity of fruit does have you looking for some things to do other than just eat it out-of-hand.  I had some mangoes that needed to be used; I had eaten lots and shared some, but I needed to eat some more! (Not that eating big, juicy, ripe mangoes is really any hardship.) Saved by inspiration that struck when I started smelling my supper cooking.

I was roasting some pork (on which I’d used a dry adobo seasoning rub given to me by a friend as a birthday present)–just a single big meaty spare rib for supper. This was one that was extra from making the chili con carne--simply would not fit in the pot so it became a small pork roast for one with just a tad left over.

I couldn’t think what to have with it until I smelled the roasting pork with the spicy adobo seasoning, something said “sweet and cool”–I thought of mangoes and cucumbers (which were sitting right there in the refrigerator just waiting to be used).

Not being particularly inspired about what to do with these two things, I headed for my laptop and Google!  As I was entering the “cucumber and ma….” the instant search which I’ve enabled popped up “cucumber and mango salad”.  That sounded just right with spicy roast pork.

I perused a number of recipe sites and blogs and found several interesting ones for cucumber and mango salads (and somehow I thought I was being very original when I visualized that combination):

  • from Daily Bites blog mango and cucumber, lime, ginger, honey (or coconut nectar–something new to explore), and optional cilantro.
  • from Eating Well which added avocado, brown sugar, rice vinegar, canola oil, and fish sauce as well as red pepper flakes.
  • from Herbivoracious  using Thai sweet chili sauce, rice vinegar, mint and cilantro leaves, and toasted sesame seeds.
  • from My Recipes  the simplest of all–cucumber, mango, lime juice and ground red pepper.
  • from Rookie Cookie with the addition of jacima, red bell pepper, honey, rice vinegar, and chile powder.
  • from The Full Plate Blog those basics but with champagne vinegar in the dressing, and suggestions for optional pea shoots (yum!), and slivered almonds, with romaine lettuce.

Those certainly gave a place to start for concocting for what I needed that night’s supper.  Then I found recipes with suggestions for adding grilled shrimp…seems like these need to be explored  much more carefully next time I’m that flush with mangoes.

rosy-cheeked bartlet pear and mango on blue/purple print towel.

pear and mango

Since my adobo rub had given me quite a spicy seasoning for the pork, I decided that I did not want to add chile powder, or even ginger–anything at all spicy to the salad–I wanted something cool and contrasting with the spicy meat.

I opted for the bare basics: cucumbers (the little baby ones), mango, shallot (no red onion in the house),  and since I didn’t have fresh mint (I’ve now killed my second plant), I used frozen cilantro (from Dorot) in the dressing which was just a simple vinaigrette made with olive oil and sherry vinegar (drat–no lime or champagne vinegar) and I didn’t think that rice wine vinegar would stand up to the adobo seasoning of the pork).

Even one mango and cucumber gave me some extra, so I dressed only what I was going to eat right then.  (What was left became another salad, with very thinly sliced pork right in with the fruit, and I added some of those luscious Bartlett pears to it as well–threw that over some mixed greens and it made an awesome lunch. I dressed with a fig-infused white balsamic vinaigrette since I added the pear.

The combination of mango, or other sweet fruit, and cucumber is definitely one that I’ll be playing with in the future–probably with chicken, shrimp  or maybe even crab, or scallops to “bulk it up” a bit for a complete meal.

(I know, it’s not a beautiful plate, but I was too hungry to go outside in the dark to find garnish–I almost didn’t even take a picture.)

A son goût!

pork, cucumber-mango salad

supper

A cucumber is a cucumber is a….

Another summer delight is the cucumber.  I know–they’re available year-round in the supermarket, but my favorites seldom show up in good condition in the market except at the farmers’ market during the summer, because I can get something besides the “slicing” cucumber (though that will do in a pinch).

short chubby pickling cucumber with typical coloration

pickling cucumber

I like my cukes to be drier and without pronounced seeds, so I use pickling cucumbers to eat instead of the “slicing” or “field” cucumber.   During the winter, I’ll use the English (the big long ones in the plastic wrap) or the “baby” cucumbers since they have less developed seeds–and I can’t see having to scrape out that much of my cucumber.  A less watery cucumber (than the slicer) is desirable since I like to put them into cucumber and tomato salads, white bean salads, macaroni salads and all sorts of things like that–they are so cool and crunchy. I really don’t want to scrape out the seeds and salt to remove water!

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cut Amira cucumber with small seed cavity and seeds

the Amira cucumber

Until recently, I’d been using pickling cucumbers, but a friend has introduced me to the Amira cucumber which she has grown in her garden regularly for some years; it’s now become my new favorite cucumber! Long, slender, with a deep green, thin skin, and seeds that are not very pronounced at all, and it is without the one downside of the pickling cucumber–a tendency to bitterness, especially in hot, dry weather. I’ll be planting some of these next summer, to take the place of the Diva (a slicer that does not need more than one plant to set fruit) cucumbers that I have been planting for the last few years.

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Cucumbers are a member of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae)which also includes squash, gourds, and melons. Cucumbers come in three main types: commonly called field or “slicers”, pickling, and “hothouse” or English cucumbers.

  • The American slicing (also garden, salad,  or field cucumbers) have a thicker skin and are usually waxed (for the supermarket) to prevent dehydration.  Since the skin is thicker, I prefer these peeled and because of the larger seeds which may be bitter and tough, and likely will need to be scraped out. These are a “wetter” cucumber and need to be salted to draw out excess moisture before use in salads. (Sorry, no pictures since I don’t have any of those around the house!) In the supermarket, these are the loose ones, with the waxed skin.
  • The pickling cucumber is noticeably different from the slicing or salad cucumber–there are gradations of color, and the skin is bumpy. These are usually shorter and chunkier than slicing or salad cucumbers, but they are perfectly good to use in place of slicing cucumbers.  (These will include gherkin and cornichon types which are smaller than other varieties of pickling cucumbers.)  When these are found in the supermarket, they usually seem to be dehydrated, since they are not waxed.
  • The English, Japanese, or “hothouse” cucumbers, which are longer and skinnier, and have small seed cavity and small seeds that don’t need to be scraped out. These are sometimes called “burpless” since they do not contain some of the compounds in the skin which can cause digestive distress to some people. These are found wrapped in plastic instead of waxed; the skin is thin so they don’t need to be peeled.

Favorite things to do with summer cucumbers include cucumber sandwiches, tomato and cucumber salad (with onion and herbs) as a side dish, or add cheese (maybe feta or ricotta salata) for a light meal (especially with fresh bread to soak up the juice), and I like to add them to other summer salads like white bean salad or pasta salad.  Slices are great as a crudity with hummus or other dip (baba ganoush). Then there’s that dish of cucumbers and onions, thinly sliced with a bit of sugar and vinegar and marinated.  Or combine them with yoghurt or sour cream, or even make a cold cucumber soup that’s easy and refreshing.

Recipes for cucumber salads or soups can be found on the web or in most cookbooks, but I’d especially recommend one of the vegetable cookbooks listed in the bibliography–Marian Morash’s The Victory Garden Cookbook, pages 92-101 for cucumber basics and some more novel uses such as sautéed  cucumber, and even baked stuffed cucumbers.

pickling and Amira cucumbers side by side

Amira and pickling cucumbers

Baby vegetables?

One of the culinary “rages” a few years ago was micro-greens, and now it seems to be baby vegetables. Do you know what a baby vegetable is?

It’s not a very precise term in culinary lingo. If you’re interested in the culinary history of baby vegetables, take a look at “Eating Babies: A Study of Youth Horticulture” from Slate Magazine. We seem to have gone through a phase of the only-good-veggies-or-fruits-are-huge-ones. So we’ve selected for the “big” produce. (Think about storage onions, for example–how I would love to be able to buy small onions!) So now we’ve made small veggies (or fruits) a “gourmet” item–and created confusion with terms.

We really should not think of baby vegetables in the same way that we think of ourselves or even as we think of cows, or chickens, or hogs, as babies, adults, or the like.  There have been so-called “baby carrots” in the supermarket for a long time–but those are NOT really “baby”–they are full-grown, mature (adult?) carrots that have been reshaped by some entrepreneur who had a surplus of gnarly, misshapen carrots that could not be sold any other way. Now, these “baby-cut” carrots are made from carrots bred for increased sugar, rather than the misfits. So those still should be called “baby-cut carrots”, not baby carrots.

Then consider cherry and grape tomatoes–are those “baby” vegetables?  Well, yes–they are smaller versions of Solanum lycopersicum.  Some are big like the Big Boy, or the Cherokee Purple.  Others are smaller, or miniatures, like the Sungold, Sweet 100, or currant tomatoes, but we don’t call them baby tomatoes–but we could by the common usage of the term “baby” vegetable.

So is a baby vegetable just something that has been picked while still young and small? In many cases, that answer to that is a resounding no!  Just like haricots verts are not pole beans or Kentucky Wonder beans picked immature or tiny–they are a different strain or cultivar of Phaseolus vulgaris.

So, are there really baby carrots? What about baby artichokes? Baby eggplant?  Some carrots labeled “baby” are simply immature carrots that have been pulled because the carrot patch needed thinning, not because they were ready to eat. Frankly, most of that ilk of “baby” carrot is pretty tasteless–not really what I want when I want a carrot–but mature, small carrots I love! Yes–there are carrots that are bred to be small at maturity–and taste good too. (But then, neither do I want the 3-pound mega-carrot–I’ll use that for making stock.)

The term “baby” should be reserved for use with those things that have been bred to be small,  grown to be mature, full-flavored, miniature, ripe produce, with essentially the same caloric value and nutritional value of the larger vegetable or fruit. According to the AgriLife Extension from Texas A&M System there are about 50 types of baby vegetables grown and marketed in the U.S. (This number may be low now as this material was in their archive, but it gives you some idea of the growth of the baby vegetable market.)

The term dwarf usually applies to plants–which may be small, but may grow full-sized fruits. To further complicate matters, plants respond to their environment, so some fruits and vegetables will be “dwarfed”–or grow smaller, if plant too thickly, or closer together–e.g. cabbage.  Some smaller heads are simply standard cabbage that is planted close together–e.g. 8 inches instead of 18 inches in the garden.

jar of baby food from Gerber

baby vegetables

Obviously I feel that the “baby” vegetable is a misnomer–that should be the puréed stuff that Gerber puts out to be fed to small, immature humans, and we should use miniature to refer to small veggies and fruits!

(Yes, the image is from Gerber.com!)