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cucumber hors d'oeuvres

My glut crops at the moment are tomatoes, button squash, pumpkins, snake beans, leeks, and cucumbers.

And cucumbers.

My favourite varieties these days are Suyo long, Richmond River White and Giant Burpless.  I tried cucamelons last year but although they are cute, and astonishingly hardy and prolific (to the point where I worry that they could end up a pest plant)  they didn’t make it into the favourites list.   This year I obeyed my own rule of only planting out just a  couple of different kinds each planting break.  A couple in September, a couple in October, a couple in November.  Only the September ones are really bearing yet, the October ones just starting, and already I’m at give-away stage with cucumbers.

I do have a recipe for dill pickles, and one for bread-and-butter cucumbers, and for gherkins with really young ones. Once upon a time in my earth-mother aspiring days I would load up pantry shelves with jars of pickles and jam and vacola preserved vegetables.  I still have a bit of a soft spot for jars like that as decor – jewel colours and a picture of frugal affluence.

But up here in Northern NSW, cucumber season is long.  The dill pickles are nice enough.  The problem is that a jar will never be opened while we have the choice of fresh cucumbers, especially not when we have fresh cucumbers filling up the fridge, loading up the bench, appearing at every meal.  By the time the first frost finally finishes them off, we are so over cucumbers that they are going to be given a miss in any form for quite a few months, and anyway, it’s the season for leafy greens.  Then, just as we start to fancy opening a jar, the new season vines start to bear little green gems, and its on again.  The same issues get in the way of preserving or freezing just about anything these days.  I make preserves as condiments, and eat (mostly) what’s in season.  Gluts are for barter or give away, and when that route is exhausted, there’s always chooks.

There are many ways to get through lots of cucumbers.  Gazpacho is one of the best.  Tzatziki or cucumber raita is a side dish for just about every meal. Cucumber is a main ingredient in summer salads, Greek or Asian.  In this party season, cucumber sticks are great for carrying dips like hummus or baba ganoush or eggplant and pomegranite or roast pumpkin and macadamia or roast beetroot or  Muhammara.  And really fresh crisp cucumber makes a good substitute for crackers, loaded up with cream cheese and dill, or tomato salsa, or (yes, the irony has come back to bite me) feta and lime pickle.

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Edamame are green soy beans, and most Australians anyway only ever encounter them in a sushi bar. They’re easy to grow in a garden though, and to me, they work so well as a snack food because they have a distinct nuttiness to them. They remind me more of boiled peanuts than anything else.

Which raises all sorts of ideas about fusion-ing them into dishes from distinctly non-Japanese cuisines. This is one of the ways I like them. It’s kindof like sprinkling toasted nuts through a salad. It makes it into a satisfying meal rather than a side dish. It’s almost like your body recognises that there’s the full range of macro nutrients in there.

So edamame which is a Japanese idea, in fattoush which is an Arabic one. The joys of living in a multicultural society!

The Recipe:

Boil the edamame, in their shells, in heavily salted water for five minutes or so until they are tender, then shell them.  (They shell really easily once cooked).

While the edamame are cooking, toast some pita chips.  I use my sourdough pita, cut it into little triangles, sprinkle with olive oil, and put them on a tray in a hot oven for a few minutes till they are crisp.  You could also fry the pita chips.  Cut them into little triangles and fry in light olive oil, or some other oil with a fairly high smoke point,  for a few minutes, then drain on brown paper.  Or you could toast them under the griller. Whichever way you go, you want crisp little shards of bread.

While all this is happening, you can add another layer of multitasking and make the dressing.  This is just a very simple olive oil and lemon juice dressing: good fruity olive oil and fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, in a jar and shake together.

Assembling:

By adding edamame, we’re already going non-traditional, so I don’t suppose it matters what else you add.  This one has:

  • olives (green and black)
  • tomatoes (fresh and sundried)
  • feta
  • labneh
  • chopped parsley and mint
  • cucumber
  • lettuce
  • cooked, shelled endamame
  • pita chips

Lightly dress with the dressing – be careful not to drown it – and serve.  Or pack the pita chips and dressing separately so they stay crisp, pack the salad into a lunch box and make your workmates jealous.

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green gazpacho

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about gazpacho, until I realised it was the look of it, not the taste, that was uninspiring. The problem with gazpacho is always the colour. If you use red tomatoes and capsicums, but then mix them with green cucumbers and capsicums, you end up with a kind of khaki that doesn’t look very appetising.  And the look is a huge part of the appeal of food. Gazpacho recipes go to all kinds of lengths to adjust the colour, including adding tomato paste (which skews the flavours too far to the acid) or even adding food colouring!

red and gold

But its the season of red and gold, and in particular, gold.  If you mix gold and green, you get a very nice shade of light green that looks cool and calm and to me very inviting on a hot night. My yellow cherry tomatoes and yellow Corno de Toro peppers, mixed with green cucumbers, make gazpacho that is gorgeous to eat and to look at!

This is a very fast, very simple gazpacho that is so good you understand how it got to be such a classic dish.

The Recipe:

Makes two adult serves.

In a food processor or blender, blend together:

  • 500 grams of yellow tomatoes
  • 300 grams of cucumber
  • 2 yellow banana peppers. My Corno de Toro have just a nice little bit of chili heat.
  • a swig of good tasting olive oil
  • a swig of white wine vinegar
  • a swig of cold water
  • salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper

A swig is about 50 ml, more or less.

Pour the mix into a strainer over a bowl.

Put a bit of the liquid back in the blender with a thick slice of white bread and blend until smooth.

Stir and press the straining mix to get all the juice out and mix the blended bread through.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

While the mix is straining, make some croutons or toast to go in it.

Serve in bowls with a bit of finely chopped parsley, some diced cucumber, and dollop of yoghurt if you like, and croutons or toast to add.

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hot mango chutney, garlic white beans, marinated snake beans, marinated tromboncino and eggplant, labne, cherry tomatoes and cucumber

There have been several disparate themes mulling around vying for attention as my focus for 2013.  I’ve been thinking about packaging, and the processing that goes into making food that can be bundled up in triple layers of plastic and cardboard to survive the ordeal of trial by retail, and I’ve considered making 2013 the year of no packaging.

I’ve also been thinking about community, and how sharing food is so central to caring and nurturing and creating the relationships that hold in good times and bad, and I’ve considered making 2013 the year of parties (and barbeques and picnics and potlucks) – treat food that isn’t quite junk food.

And I’ve been thinking about the conversation that is surfacing in permaculture circles lately about the misconception that permaculture is about self-sufficiency.  The three ethics of permaculture are  care for the earthcare for people and share fairly. The first two are easy to understand, if not always to do.  The last is a bit more opaque.  It’s a mixture of the standard care-giver axiom that before you can care for anyone or anything else, you need to take care of yourself, with a warning that hoarding takes you backwards.  And it’s led me to thinking about a glut of tromboncino (again) and the realtive merits of preserving them, versus offloading them in the mailbox at the corner, versus turning them into party food to share.

Then last night I made this platter for dinner, and the three themes merged in it.  At least once a week, most weeks, dinner for us is a platter to share, in these hot summer days on the verandah watching the sunset with a cold beer to go with it.  Most weeks too, there is some occasion to share food with others –  family, friends, community. I thought I might share with you a platter each week, party food for just the household or to share, based on what is fresh, in season, and in glut.

So here’s the first of 50 platters. (I wonder what I have taken on!)

Served with Seedy Sourdough Crispbread triangles, there’s

  • sliced fresh cherry tomatoes and cucumber
  • olives from last year’s crop
  • snake beans now in glut, cut into finger food lengths, blanched, and dressed while hot with a simple balsamic-olive oil-tamari-garlic-honey dressing (we can eat an awful lot of snake beans like this)
  • labneh balls rolled in dukkah – just strained greek yoghurt, rolled into balls in oiled hands, then rolled in dukkah
  • hot mango and tomato chutney made with our ripening glut crop of mangoes
  • Lebanese Marinated Zucchini et al made with the now officially in glut tromboncino, and eggplants just because they are so good in it.
  • garlic white bean paste made with the first of the season’s mature Blue Lake beans.

Recipe – Garlic White Bean Paste:

Soak the beans and cook them. I used my Blue Lakes, but cannellini beans work fine too.  Bean Basics has the details about cooking dried beans if you are not used to it.  The quick method is to use fresh beans, bring  to the boil in water, soak for half an hour (or all day),  change the water, add salt, then boil for half an hour or so, or pressure cook for 10 minutes or less.

Drain the beans and save a little of the cooking water.  Blend them with some garlic, a couple of spoonfuls of good olive oil, and enough of the water to make the right consistency. Taste and add some salt if it needs it – beans need a bit of salt.

This makes a smooth, fluffy, spreadable paste that is perfect as a base for other ingredients.  Spread on a biscuit or toast and top with as many of the platter ingredients as you can fit. Or take to a party as a dip with biscuits or crudites.

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This is another of my favourite summer salads.  Cucumbers are practically in glut this time of year, but I can’t get inspired to do any preserving.  One year I made dozens of jars of bread-and-butter cucumbers, but by the time cucumber season finished I was quite happy to leave them un-opened.  By the time I started to feel like cucumber again, the season had come round again.  They sat very decoratively on a shelf for several years.

Now I try very hard to discipline myself to plant only one cucumber vine each fruiting planting break throughout spring and summer.  That way I have continuity of supply all season, and I still end up giving lots away.

The Recipe

This recipe uses 2 continental cucumbers. They need to be sliced lengthways very fine.  I use the broad blade on my grater, and to get the green edges, I grate the cucumber lengthways, and discard the first and last slices, and, if the middle is too seedy, a couple of middle slices too.

  • Put the sliced cucumbers in a colander, sprinkle with a dessertspoon of salt, and leave to drain for about half an hour.
  • Toast 2 dessertspoons of sesame seeds in a heavy pan, shaking to get an even toast.
  • Finely slice half a red onion.
  • Make a dressing by blending together
    • 1 or 2 chilis (depending on how hot they are)
    • 2 cloves of garlic
    • a thumb sized knob of fresh ginger
    • 4 or 5 leaves of culantro or sprigs of coriander
    • several drops of sesame oil
    • 4 dessertspoons of lime cordial
    • 1 dessertspoon of fish sauce
  • Rinse the cucumber in fresh water, drain well, pat dry, and toss with the sliced onion, toasted sesame seeds, and dressing.

This salad holds relatively well, so it’s a good one to take to a barbeque or make ahead of time.  Goes really well with barbequed fish.

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After floods followed by heat wave, my garden has practically no leafy greens in it.  The parsley and celery keeled over in the wet – they hate waterlogged roots and although my drainage is pretty good, it wasn’t up to 150mm of rain in a day.  The lettuces and rocket keeled over in the heat wave, not up to several days in a row over 40º.

But that’s ok.  Summer salads need more crunch and cool than leaf-based salads anyway. This is one of my favourite summer salads, great with anything on a barbeque.

The Recipe:

I like snake beans best for this salad, but french beans work too.  Blanch beans by cooking for just a couple of minutes in boiling water, then cooling straight away in cold water, so they are still crunchy.

Beans are the stars and it is best not to over-elaborate: some diced cucumber and sliced capsicum and red onion go well,  but leave out tomatoes or leafy greens.

Toss through the dressing and it’s done.

Dressing:

1 dessertspoon olive oil
1 dessertspoon  lime cordial
1 dessertspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
few drops sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs – mint, vietnamese mint and culantro or coriander are my first choices, but you could also include lemon, lime or Thai basil.

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This is not so much a recipe as a reminder.  With cucumbers and mint both fully in season (going off in my garden) we have been eating a cucumber raita (or tzatziki – same recipe, just a short journey across the Middle East) as a side dish with practically every meal.

I have developed such a addiction for it that I have been taking a tub with some flat bread and left over vegetables for lunch every day I am out. It’s a really tasty, really easy, really cheap, and really healthy dish, and as an added bonus, it has practically no calories.

Just mix a clove of garlic (crushed), a good dollop of plain, yoghurt,  and a big bunch of mint leaves finely chopped.  Occasionally I might add a bit of coriander and/or cumin to vary it.

Finely dice a cucumber.  I’m growing a mixture of Richmond River White and Continental  cucumbers.  The Richmond River Whites need peeling, but I leave the peel on the Continentals.  I leave the seeds in both kinds but you may want to de-seed older cucumbers. Salt to taste and you have it.

(It’s even better, and cheaper, if you make your own yoghurt.  Christine at Slow Living Essentials has the recipe. A supermarket cool bag or a lunch cool bag make a good insulated container,)

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