I can’t remember a year when we have had such a prolific crop of cucumbers! We are growing two varieties this year, Bush Champion and Baby Persian. The Bush Champion has a compact growing habit. Ours are in the greenhouse area of the garden but are also suitable for patio and container gardening. The Baby Persian variety is growing up a trellis in the greenhouse. The term “baby” refers to the size when it is best to pick them, 4 to 6 inches. Of course, like many cucumbers, they will continue to grow larger than this. Hence the need to be diligent in picking to get them at their best.
Along with tzatziki sauce, I have been making lots of cold cucumber soup. Buttermilk cucumber soup is crisp and cool from the cucumbers, celery and shallots bring depth of flavor and buttermilk and sour cream provide a refreshing tang. This no cook soup comes together in minutes, the only appliance you need is a blender.
Simply add rough chopped cucumber, celery, shallots, olive oil, buttermilk and sour cream to the bowl and blend until smooth. Force the soup through a fine strainer for the smoothest texture. Chill for at least an hour, longer if possible to blend the flavors. Add a little crabmeat or cooked shrimp for a more substantial dish. A simple garnish of chopped garlic chives and you have a cool and delicious treat for summer dining.
Chilled Buttermilk Cucumber Soup
1 1/2 lb. cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
2 medium celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
2T extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 c sour cream (low fat is fine)
1/2 c buttermilk
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped chives, to garnish
In a blender, purée the cucumber, celery, shallots, olive oil, and 1 tsp. kosher salt until smooth.
Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
Whisk in the sour cream and buttermilk and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. Serve drizzled with olive oil and garnished with chives.
It’s a deliciously creamy sauce or dip based on yogurt, cucumbers and dill, and yes the Greeks do have a word for that, tzatziki. Pronounced in English, zat-zee-key, it is a traditional Greek “meze” or something to whet the appetite. I serve it with chicken, fish and vegetables. Tzatziki is also great as a sauce with gyros or wraps.
Until the last several years, you would have needed to drain the yogurt for several hours before proceding with the recipe. With the advent of Greek yogurt, that step is eliminated. “Greek style” yogurt is strained to remove the whey, the watery part. The term “Greek” is not regulated and some yogurts are thickened with cornstarch and milk protein concentrates. Read the label, Greek yogurt should contain only milk and live active cultures. In Greece, sheep’s milk yogurt is traditionally used in tzatziki, I have read that it is sweeter and richer than cow or goat’s milk yogurt. If you are using regular yogurt it needs to be drained in a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth for about four hours to obtain the thicker texture of Greek yogurt.
Grated cucumber, garlic, dill and sometimes mint are added to the yogurt base. Peel and seed the cucumber before grating. I use a teaspoon to make one long scoop down the middle to eliminate the seeds. Keep the cucumber in halves, they are large enough to shred on a box grater without hurting your fingers. Put the shredded cucumber in a strainer over a bowl and sprinkle a little salt on it. This will drain out some of the excess liquid. I squeeze out the rest of the liquid by putting the cucumber in a clean cloth dishtowel and wringing it out. Alternately, squeeze the cucumber in your hands. This is an important step to ensure the sauce does not become watery.
The dill and mint should be fresh and if I am adding mint I will wait until right before serving since just picked mint can overwhelm the dish. Tzatziki is a versatile sauce that combines the slightly sour tang of yogurt along with the cool refreshing flavors of cucumber, dill and mint. It’s a great addition to your summer menus.
Makes about two cups
1-1/2 c plain whole or 2% milk yogurt, preferably Greek
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 c peeled, seeded, and grated cucumber
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 t chopped fresh dill
2t finely chopped mint (optional)
2 t extra-virgin olive oil
Put the cucumber in a colander over a bowl and lightly sprinkle with salt. After a half hour wrap the cucumber in a clean cloth dishtowel and squeeze as much liquid out of it as you can. Alternately, squeeze the liquid out with your hands.
Add the chopped garlic, cucumber, lemon juice, dill, and olive oil to the yogurt mixture. Stir to blend and season to taste with salt. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
Summertime in a bowl, liquid salad, just two of the descriptive names for that summer favorite, gazpacho. Our tomatoes are finally starting to ripen along with a healthy crop of cucumbers. I think I read about fifty recipes and finally settled on my own combination of vegetables. I used some purchased tomato juice, but as the tomatoes from the garden become more plentiful, I will use them to make my own juice.
I skipped the traditional stale bread and went very easy on the olive oil. I did use my best Spanish sherry vinegar for this refreshing soup that originated in the Andalusian province of southern Spain. I didn’t blanch, peel or seed any of the vegetables. I did hand chop them for uniformity of size and blended just a little bit of them to enhance the tomato juice base. Flavorful vine ripened tomatoes are key to this recipe. It’s also a good time to use your not so perfect specimens that won’t make it in your tomato salad. The peppers in my gazpacho were purchased, but it won’t be long before I will be picking them from the garden. A jalapeno pepper is nice also to add a little extra heat.
Make gazpacho a day ahead if possible. The flavor only gets better from sitting overnight in the fridge.
Full of sun ripened flavor and packed with nutrients, this low fat chilled vegetable soup is the perfect refreshment for hot summer days.
3 1/2c plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/2c finely chopped red onion, soaked in ice water for 15 minutes and drained
2c cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 1/2c bell pepper cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 small clove of garlic, chopped finely
2c tomato juice
1/4c sherry vinegar
2T flavorful extra virgin olive oil
3-4 dashes of green Tabasco sauce
1T Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Place tomatoes, onion, cucumber, pepper and garlic in a bowl
Add the tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, Tabasco and Worcestertshire sauce. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Transfer two cups of the mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse the machine on and off to coarsely puree the contents. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least six hours or preferably overnight before serving.
Summertime is the prime season for fresh berries. Our local season begins with beautiful “red to the core” strawberries in early to mid June. When our raspberry bushes were thriving, I would see the first luscious berries on the thorny bushes around the fourth of July. I could always count on a call from my mother about mid July, letting me know the blueberries were ready to pick on the bush on what once was my grandfather’s property.
This year the call letting me know it was time to pick blueberries was from my brother. He is maintaining the grounds as we get ready to sell my parents house and adjoining property. This would be my last opportunity to pick from this healthy and prolific bush. I was rewarded with almost a gallon of berries after an hour’s picking. Along with the usual fare like muffins and bar cookies, I was anxious to try my hand at a recipe for sorbet.
The article in the June/July issue of Fine Cooking was contributed by Zoe Francois. Probably best known for her Five Minutes a Day bread books and her blog, Zoe Bakes, she offers a basic formula for sorbet that allows you to choose from endless combinations of fruits, spirits and add ins. She also tackles the common problem that you might encounter making this frozen treat, ending up with a sorbet that is too icy or too slushy.
In a professional kitchen you would use equipment like refractometers and saccharometers to achieve the correct balance. Ms. Francois shares a simple trick for the home cook to see if you have the correct ratio of sugar syrup to fruit puree. Gently place a clean fresh raw egg in a tall container filled with the sorbet base. If the egg sinks, add more of the sugar syrup, if it floats with only a quarter size piece of eggshell in view, your ratio is correct. I must emphasize fresh when it comes to the egg you are using. As eggs get older they contain more air, and might float regardless of the sugar content of your mixture.
Borrowing from the typical combination of blueberries and cinnamon that you would find in a muffin recipe, I added some spicy cinnamon basil and a pinch of ground cinnamon to infuse some extra flavor into the blueberry base. Be sure the flavors in your base are assertive, freezing the mixture will make it less intense. A little citrus juice, lemon or lime, and a pinch of salt will help intensify your flavors.
The hardest part of the recipe for me was finding that tall narrow container. Putting a raw egg into a clean blender jar, filled with the sorbet base seemed too risky because of the metal blade. A vase? Maybe, but the ones I had were too big. I finally found a clean tall take-out container that didn’t have any residual odors. I only needed an extra tablespoon of simple syrup to make the egg float properly. Another trick for getting a creamy sorbet is to blend the smallest amount, only one-eighth of a teaspoon full of guar gum into the strained fruit base. Guar gum is a natural emulsifier from the seed of the guar plant. Use it sparingly, too much and it will turn your frozen treat stringy or gummy.
Another great find came from this article for me. After many years of looking for container that I had visualized in my mind but could never find in stores, there it was, an insulated long narrow container with a non slip base that would make scooping ice cream easier. I purchased mine from Williams-Sonoma but Sur La Table is carrying them as well. On line reviews are mixed at this point, hopefully they will improve.
The berries made a delcious sorbet, my next assignment is to get my hubby to make cuttings from this bush before the house is sold so that we can continue the tradition and one day have a blueberry bush of our own.
Blueberry Cinnamon Basil Sorbet
From Fine Cooking Magazine
Makes 1 quart
1c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. light corn syrup
1 c. water
1 lb. fresh blueberries
1-2T fresh lemon or lime juice
Pinch of salt (or more)
2T finely chopped cinnamon basil
1/8t ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. guar gum (optional, but makes for a creamier texture)
1 fresh raw egg, in its shell, washed and dried
To make the sugar syrup, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, until all ingredients are combined and sugar granules are thoroughly dissolved. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then place in the refrigerator until cold, about 30 minutes.
In a blender, puree the blueberries, lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt. Taste mixture to correct flavors. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Place in a covered container and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
Put the blueberry puree, 1 c. sugar syrup, 2 tablespoons packed basil leaves, ground cinnamon and guar gum, if using, in a blender. Strain mixture, once again, to remove any remaining seeds.
Check the density of the sorbet base by gently lowering the egg into the container with a slotted spoon. If it sinks, remove it and stir in and additional 2 T of the sugar syrup, repeating as necessary until the egg floats just below the surface with a quarter-sized exposed area of shell. When density is right, pour sorbet base into a covered container and refrigerate until very cold, at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
To freeze, pour base into an ice cream maker and run according to manufacturer’s directions. Sorbet too hard to scoop? Let it sit 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving. Sorbet will keep up to two weeks.