Cucumber Week! Recipe – the old standby, and a new favorite…

To me, this first recipe below is the quintessential cucumber recipe, very similar to what I had growing up. The version in my fav cookbook, though a bit  light on the oil and sugar,  still tastes great. Gazpacho, on the other hand, is definitely not as familiar to me, though to many it is a summer staple. The recipe below is based on a recipe, again from Simply in Season, and my Hub’and assures me it is very good (but not very authentic). Try them both, and see what you think!

Sweet Cucumber Salad

Peel (or not) and slice thinly enough cucumbers to fill you bowl. Add 1/4 cup of oil, 3 Tbl. sugar, and a bit of celery seed – it is a strong spice, so a little goes along way. I like to add onions, and I recently tried throwing in some finely chopped garlic scapes, ‘cuz i had them. Aren’t I fancy? Mix it all up, and let it chill in the fridge to marinate a while. * You might also slice the cukes, add several Tbl. of salt, and put in a colander to drain for an hour or so – this will make for a much less watery salad if you have leftovers, which you will.

 

Gazpacho

Mix together 2 cups of fresh, diced tomatoes, and 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (or just blend up some more of your tomatoes in a food processor or I suppose with a potato masher?), 2 C of veggie broth, 2 C. diced cucumber, 1 C. sweet pepper (green or red or both), 1 C. celery, 1 C. onion, 2 Tbl. sugar or honey, 1 Tbl. lime juice, 1 tsp. salt, and dashes to your taste of Tabasco sauce, Worcetershire sauce and sprinkles of green onions or chives if you still have them around. Add 6 – 8 ice cubes, and allow this to stand for 30 minutes in the fridge! I like to top with fresh basil and a swirl of sour cream blended with a little milk so it can make sort of a Milky Way swirl into the top of your soup. Mmmmm…

So, what cucumber recipes did I miss? Fill us all in with your cucumber-inspired comments! Thanks for following along on Cucumber Week 2012 – because I don’t grow sharks in my backyard. Cucumbers will have to do.

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Cucumber Week! 4 Awesome Appetizers!

Still “got cukes”? You can make a couple of cute and yummy appetizers with your bounty.

Cucumber cups:

Cut cukes into chunks about 1-2 inches tall, perhaps peeling a few strips of the skin off for ‘decor’ purposes. Hollow out the chunk, that is, remove the seeds. This can be done with some careful operating of a melon baller. If you want to get real fancy, you can leave the bottom of the chunk intact (if your filling is very thick though, you don’t have to worry too much about leaving it, so, meh).  Add your favorite dip. I love the Smoked Mozzarella and Tomato blend that Wildtree sells – its a thick cream-cheese-based dip, but can also be made with Greek yogurt. Plop some dip into the cup, and serve, “You can even eat the dishes,” just like in Willy Wonka!

Cucumber Finger Sandwiches:

Simply slice a cucumber, and put dilled- cream cheese or yogurt on a piece of Melba bread (think of ‘This is Spinal Tap’ while you’re doing it, and try to resist using ‘large bread’ — just trust me on this one). A nice refreshing touch is to add mint to the spread, or a small amount of minced mint on the very top.

Spa Water:

Cucumbers in your water? Whoda’thunk? And why would you ever do it? you ask. Doug DiPasquale writes in an article aptly titled, “Cucumber Water: The most refreshing drink EVER?”

Cucumbers contain vitamin C and caffeic acid, two antioxidant nutrients that can help protect the skin from sun damage. Vitamin C boosts collagen and elastin, which helps keep skin looking vibrant while caffeic acid protects skin cells from UV radiation. Cucumbers also have natural anti-inflammatory properties and help to prevent water retention. Cucumbers also contain silica, an essential component of healthy connective tissue.

Cut up a cucumber, add splash of lemon, lime, or mint, and steep overnight in a pitcher of water.   It is refreshing and a cool drink on a hot day.

Layered Greek Dip:

This has fast become my FAVORITE! And, it also incorporates another seasonal veggie and my favorite stinky cheese! This recipe is from ‘Simply in Season’ – where else?

Get a pie plate, and spread the bottom with about 1 1/2 C. greek yogurt. Top that with chives or a green onion, minced. Layer on top of that, 4 – 6 generous dollops of smooth hummus, and spread smooth. Cucumbers, and Tomatoes, and more green onions form the tip top, and cut up your choice of olives and finally seal it with the smell of feta.

Delicious with pita chips or really any kind of crunchy chip or veggie.

Cucumber Week! Recipe: Lacto-fermented pickles…

It’s that time of year again – Cucumbers are in season, and are in abundance in our CSA box, and even in my garden! After a year in my garden when all my (3) cucumber plants died, and we hadn’t bought a share in a CSA, because so confident was I that I could grow EVERYTHING (lesson learned. Interdependence = good), I had been missing cucumbers. Then I remembered back to two summers ago, when our CSA box was so heavy with cucumbers. It is fast approaching that time again!

Don’t get me wrong – I love cukes. But, there’s only so many of the typical ‘cucumber salad’ I can eat, and that my family will eat.

So, what to do?

I opened up my ‘Ball Blue Book of Canning’, and mulled the option. I tried brining with some farmer’s market cukes last year. But, it didn’t go so well. I thought maybe this years I’d can dill pickles.

After hauling up my water-bath canner, my canning box, jars – I was already exhausted. Canning, around here, gets done AFTER the kids are asleep, and when the house is a little cooler. Was pickling cukes into the wee hours of the night going to be a good option, if toting a few jars up the stairs already winded me? Nah….

Lacto-fermented pickles can be made in a jar, though — I googled a recipe and came across a lovely site that had a recipe that I used. I tried one this afternoon, and while it had absorbed some flavor, and was a little softer, it still had a crunch. I think by tomorrow at this time, they’ll be perfect and ready to go in the fridge. Its very simple: spices go in empty jar, ends are cut off smallish cukes and put in jar tightly, brine is boiled, cooled, and added to the jar, and I topped the works with a horseradish leaf as a ‘cap’ to keep out air, though I did also put the jar top on, and just gave it one turn, so it wouldn’t be air-tight. Sometimes gasses and liquids may escape during the 2 – 3 day fermenting process, so you might want to play it safe and tuck them in an ice cream bucket or left-over salad shell.

Lacto-fermentation provides good probiotics to your system, which keeps just about everything running smoothly. I feel that, at this time in my life, not only do I need all the good bugs I can get, but I also need time to sleep, and not can stuff that I only eat occasionally (like pickles).

Once they’re done, I plan to make a recipe from my mom’s group cookbook: Pickle dip! Simple – just throw a brick (or two) of cream cheese in a blender or food processor, then add pickles, and a little of the pickle brine’. I think this would also work with yogurt (probably the thicker Greek yogurt would be better) and/or sour cream. Yum – awesome with homemade thick cut fries!

CSA Survival Menu #2: The all and nothing vegetable: Zucchini!

I am calling it an all-and-nothing vegetable, because it is really so versatile. You can let it absorb so many flavors, because it really doesn’t have so much of a pronounced taste of its own!

It is also very prolific in the garden, and sometimes even those of us with the best of intentions at a certain point run screaming from the very sight of it, a bit later in the season, when we have seen 500 zucchini.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Here are a few simple and YUMMY and versatile recipes, as versatile as this all-and-nothing vegetable itself.

Shred it!

Do you think I’m going to give you a recipe for zucchini bread? Ok, while I appreciate a good zucchini bread as much as the next person, “zucchini bread” is just basically a vehicle for me to get my chocolate-chip fix. Yum! But, what else can you do with shredded zucchini? Just about anything!

  • – to save on money for expensive ground meat (organic stuff gets pricey, y’know) I like to mix a half pound of ground beef with a plentiful grating of zucchini. The veggie absorbs the flavor of the meat, and also has a firm texture. You can even grate it, and then also chop it in a food processor, so it is in bits, which even further blends in with the meat!

    Shredded Zucchini/Beef Stroganoff, with a Buffalo White Sauce – rave reviews from Hub’band et al.

  • – to add to stir fry meals, and soups (but only add it in soups for the last couple minutes before serving, or it turns grey and gets a little icky-looking, say the children in my house.
  • – You can also blanch and squeeze excess moisture out and freeze in 1 or better yet, 2 cup portions. Fiberiffic and moisture! Save a few for your favorite sweet bread recipe when you need a shot of something tasty in the dark of winter.

Slice it!

  • – Here are some pics of a great and easy way to make zucchini chips! Just add a little oil and your favorite seasoning, and broil until its done to your liking. I like mine slightly brown on the outside, but soft on the inside.

Fry it?

  • – you can batter and fry these little chips, too, which is very delicious. I like to do a dip in egg wash, onion ring mixture, and a little parmesan. Nothing I do very frequently because of the labor intensity, but its very good.

Fill it!

  • – Our CSA grows an ‘8-ball’ variety of squash, which is fun to cook. I cut in half, hollow out the seeds and squishy part, then fill with all kinds of things, depending on my mood. These photos show some cheese and other veggies as the filling, which I chopped in the food processor and mixed together, then squished into the halves. Put the halves in a pan, cover with foil, and bake at 375 until nice and hot and bubbly – around 35 minutes or so.  (Alternately, you can cut it like a pumpkin, fill it, then put the ‘cap’ on to bake. It is cute this way. It tastes the same.) You can fill this kind of a zucchini squash with a mixture to suit your meals theme – Tex-Mex, Indian, Italian like mine, Hamburger/Cheeseburger – many, many possibilities. This is also a good way to use up your ‘Oops squash.” As in, “Oops, I was picking squash and somehow didn’t notice this one, for days and days, until it got too big, and really the only good use for it is to hollow it out and fill it and bake it.”

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I’d be interested to know other favorite zucchini squash recipes. Do you have any to share with us?

Next on my list to try:

Zucchini as a pasta (and I think you can even freeze it like this!)! I will report back to you all and tell you how it goes for me. Until then, you can read about this recipe here at this link.

CSA Survival Menu #1: Kale Konnundrum

Occasionally there comes in your box something you might not have an immediate taste for. I thought I would add another feature to my ‘CSA Survival Guide’: a Survival Menu! I’d like to throw out, for your consideration, some recipes for some of the items I either a) never tried b) didn’t recognize or c) didn’t really care for in the first year (or so!) of being a CSA share-holder.

There are several commonly grown varieties of kale, from the ‘curly’ shown here, to ones with pointy, oak-like leaves, to bubble, leather-skin looking ones, called dinosaur kale.

The first of those to which a, b, and c equally applied, was kale!

“But DUDE,” I thought in my mind…ok, I don’t really self-refer to me as ‘Dude’, but….you get the idea, “Its so nutritious! It is a super-duper-food! You just gotta eat it and love it!” It also stores well in the fridge and lasts quite a long time before getting icky at all – It is high in Vitamins A and C, also K, and has a good amount of B6 and calcium (says my must-have veggie guide, Simply in Season).

Eat it, I did, or tried to. But love it, at first, I did not.

Kale is tough – as in, the taste. Its tough! Chewy! The center stalk is inedible. So, that increases the prep time a bit. Plus, its green (and, if you’re my kids, that is enough to make you not want to try it.) Kale is not generally eaten raw, so that meant I had to find some way(s) to cook the stuff!

By the by, through trial and error, I did find some recipes that I love – and guess what? I can now say, to myself, “DUDE! I love kale!” Or something like that.

I hope by the end of your CSA share season, you will be able to say the same (but, honestly, give it a few seasons. Let it grow on you. ). By the way, Kale is pretty easy to grow, and is very prolific. So, if you develop a taste for it, you can easily plant it in your backyarden to have even more to love!

Basic kale shreds:

Remove center stalk, and then layer leaves on top of each other. Cut perhaps 10 – 15 stalks of kale. Then, with all the leaves piled, roll them up into a cigar shape. Use a sharp knife to slice, as if you’re cutting small circles off of the cigar. The leaves will unfold into long, thin strips. When you have them like this, prepare in one of the following ways:

  • – boil in salted water until just tender. Don’t let ’em get too mushy! But don’t let them be to tough, either.
  • – stir fry with your favorite marinade, and throw in other season veggies with a bite to them – radishes, peas, ginger and a sweet and sour sauce. Yum!
  • – Wilt in a covered frying pan with a few Tablespoons of water, and serve under fish, chicken, or steak. Cover all with a light sauce of your choosing – really good with a homemade peanut sauce. Or,  Saute with butter and onions, or garlic scapes. Yum!
  • – Also consider using kale in place of or in the same ways as you would collard greens (now, if you’ve never eaten collards, that is sad, too. And actually, I don’t think you can totally justify the substitution, but, in a pinch for ideas, consider it at the least).

Basic kale bits:

Remove center stalk as before, then put leaves into a food processor (or use knife) to finely chop. Here’s where you can get reaaaalllly sneak with the green bits:

  • – put in soup!
  • – put in casseroles!
  • – sprinkle with pasta, put in an alfredo sauce (it will give it a green tint), put in a wrap sandwich or even just a plain ol’ bread slice sandwich for that matter, etc etc etc.

Trick is: you hardly see it, you do detect a taste, but not much – but you’re still getting the awesome nutrient benefit (dude).

Basic kale bits could also be lightly steamed or blanched, excess water squeezed out by wrapping the bits in a tea towel/flour sack dishtowel, and then frozen in 1 c. servings to use as above.

Other creative uses:

I dehydrated quite a bit of kale last year, to make a ‘greens powder’. After dehydrating, I ground in my tiny spice grinder – I think it worked out to be something like 5 or 6 kale stalks equaled something like a Tbl. – crazy! But, then I would just sprinkle in soup, or on casseroles. It is quite easy to store in just a tightly covered jar.

I heard of a neat idea, and you really gotta try this to believe how good it is. Prepare kale as above, and then just rip leaves into ‘chip’-sized portions. Using a baking stone, if you have one, put the pieces on the stone, drizzle with your favorite olive, grapeseed, or other oil, and then bake in the oven until crispy. I like to add lemon pepper, garlic, or a mix of curry spices — whatever flavor I’m in the mood for. These kale chips are great! I have also made them with Italian spices and crunched them up over pasta or bruschetta.

So, dudes and dudettes, give kale a krunch – and learn to love this health green! *By the way, kale is a cold-hardy green, and though our CSA delivers it in the spring, you can also grow it in the fall, and in some places, or under the right low-tunnel, through the winter!