Nosh: Chilled Cucumber Soup

It was way too hot to cook yesterday.  I mean, really cook, like hunkered down in the kitchen for hours to do anything that involved pans and extreme amounts of chopping and flame-type of cooking.  I’m sure you’re all aware of this by now, but I don’t like hot weather.  I (currently) joke that it’s because I lived in Texas for a few years and I’ve had enough hot weather to last a lifetime, but that’s putting too much of the blame on the great state of Texas.  Sorry, Texas.  It’s not you, it’s me.  I just don’t like summer; never have, never will.  So when the mercury rises and it’s like walking into a wet dishrag full of humidity, I want easy easy easy and refreshing things to cook.

This soup?  Is one of those things.  In the past I’ve had difficulty finding cucumber soup recipes I’ve been happy with, as they are often little more than buttermilk and/or sour cream with cucumbers and some scallions.  If I wanted to eat that, I’d dip some cucumbers in ranch dressing and be done with it.  But this recipe is different.  It’s light and creamy, not fatty and glunky.  And it’s got some added spark to it thanks to mint leaves and lemon juice.  Easy, highly recommended, and delicious.

It calls for a little bit of lemon oil at the end as a garnish, which can be kind of spendy if you buy a bottle at the store.  The first thing I did was make it myself.  Sure, sure, you’re thinking, “Hey, you said this was easy!  And now you’re making gourmet oil?  What gives, Ms. Bait & Switch?”

Relax.

Zest your lemon before you cut it in half to juice it.  Take the zest and put it in some kind of receptacle (saucer? Pyrex? small storage containter?) and add some mild oil to it.

Congratulations! You’ve just made lemon oil.

Cover your oil and put it off to the side.  You’re done with it until you’re ready to eat.

Not surprisingly, the main ingredient in cucumber soup is cucumbers.  You’ll need about two pounds, and then you peel and seed them.  Tip: if you don’t want to pull out a second utensil to seed the cucumbers (which, as my regular readers know, would in all likelihood be the magnificently multitasking teaspoon) because of whatever reason–it’s all the way across the kitchen and who wants to walk, or it violates your austerity principles because more than one utensil is flashy, or your kitchen drawers are being guarded by wild dogs–then I have an easy solution.  Take your handy, old-timey, had-it-in-the-family-for-a-thousand-years-because-grandma-gave-me-hers vegetable peeler that you think you know everything about, and flip it around to use the handle as a de-seeder.

Yes, way.

Wanna see it again?  Check it out.

OMG Shut up!

Then chop, and assemble the rest of your ingredients.  I didn’t have eight large mint leaves as the bugs have kind of had their way with my mint this year, so I just assembled a handful of small ones.  And I used two garlic cloves instead of the proscribed one because it is a sickness that I can’t help but you’ll end up with a cutting board that looks something like this:

Cukes, mint, de-seeded jalapeno, garlic, red onion. Yes!

To make things even easier, this beautiful recipe goes in a food processor, so even the chopping is kept to a bare minimum (if you don’t have a food processor, then do please cut them a little smaller–though it won’t have to be too much–and use your blender.  If you don’t have a blender, then I don’t know what to tell you except they’re usually on sale and a reliable one can be had pretty inexpensively).  Toss your veggies and lemon juice and some water in there…

Cooking like this = awesome.

…and give them a whirl to break them down a little and create space for the yogurt, if you have a smallish processor bowl (like I have) and don’t want to fill it to the tippy-top so that it’s pushed against the lid and not mixing correctly.  If you’ve got a large processor bowl, by all means, add the yogurt now.

You’ll want to use a good, thick Greek-style yogurt for this.  We eat a lot of yogurt and buy it by the giant bucketsful, so I had to measure mine out.

So what if it’s a little bit more than six ounces? That means once the yogurt is in with the veggies, I get to lick the spatula without concern that I’m cheating the recipe. 🙂 Yes, I planned it that way.

But the individual cups you get at the grocery store are usually six ounce servings, so just get one of those.  See?  Once again, easy.

Add the yogurt if you haven’t done so already along with the rest of the spices.  Salt.  Maple syrup.  At first I wasn’t sure if I was down with the maple syrup but then I thought, well, it’s going to add a slight bit of depth to a soup that has an incredibly bright flavor profile.  So yeah, I came on board, and it was perfect.  I also added fresh ground black pepper (again, because the flavor is so bright, I wanted something to add some contrast) and cayenne.  Yes, cayenne.  That was entirely my improvisation and you don’t have to do this at all, but I adore the combination of foods that are physically cold, but spicy.  Chilled hot salsa.  Ginger beer.  So why not?  I couldn’t think of a reason why not.  And it was goooooooood.

Blend it all together and put it in the fridge.  Normally I don’t make a fuss about what you should store things in, but I will offer this caveat: plastics can absorb tastes and odors, especially if they’re sort of old.  Glass and stainless do not.  This soup only has its own innate goodness to rely on and won’t be further cooked or prodded, and is going to spend at least two hours interacting with itself.  Do yourself a favor and stash the soup in the fridge in glass or stainless so it doesn’t absorb any inadvertent smells hanging around in your plastic containers.  Keep it pure and beautiful.

At the end of at least two hours, after you’ve lazed in your air conditioning and beaten the heat with a cocktail and a good book, take your soup out and check for seasonings.  More salt?  No?  Yes?   Bueno.  Then top it with a drizzle of your beautiful, pre-made lemon oil and a few more slivers of mint, and enjoy a cool, refreshing, simple, non-glunky, light, gorgeous summer soup.

Om nom nom.

Have a salad and some grilled eggplant, if you really want to get crazy.  That’s what we did.  It was a total vegetarian feast, and it was gooooooooood.

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Nosh: Corn and Blueberry Salad

Summer salads!

I get the mystique that surrounds summer salads.  They usually involve minimal cooking, are made with fresh ingredients, and (with the exception of things like potato and macaroni salads) tend to be heat-friendly and waist conscious.  Bonus!  They make use of the myriad fruits and vegetables that come into season in the summer.

That is exactly what makes this corn and blueberry salad so perfect.  It’s not entirely no-cook since you have to boil the corn (I suppose you could roast it, but that would involve turning on the stove and it’s 95° out today so as far as that option goes…no) but it’s pretty close, and otherwise you simply chop.  It’s seasonal.  It’s easy.  It’s healthy.  And, oh yeah…it’s delicious.

The recipe claims to serve 6-8 people, which I readily believe.  It’s easily halved for smaller households.  Just, you know.  Put in half of everything they ask for; this is corn, not rocket surgery.  Anyway.  Here we go.

 

  • 6fresh sweet corn, husked
  • 1cup fresh blueberries
  • 1cucumber, sliced
  • 1/4cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/4cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped*
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Corn!

I don’t know why I find it so amusing that Dagwood Bumstead is pictured near my food and yet, I do.

Start your water before you peel the corn so that it will be ready for boiling (or at least almost ready) by the time you’re done peeling and de-hairing your corn.  While it’s cooking and cooling, you can measure out and chop the other ingredients.  Really, I wasn’t kidding.  Simple.  Boil it for five minutes and certainly no more than ten.  Then pull it out and let it drain.  In the meantime, measure out and wash your blueberries…

Blueberries!

And chop the rest of the goodies.

Chop, chop, chop.

Since the primary ingredients in this dish are corn and blueberries–both relatively small–I cut the cucumber to a comparable size.  It’s up to you how to cut them but the general practice is to keep ingredients relatively on par with each other and no, I’m not just saying that to placate my own OCD.  Granted, it’s a more important guideline when you’re dealing with food that is cooked, but it’s a helpful kitchen guideline nonetheless.

For those of you playing along at home, I would like to point out that that what is pictured is indeed more than a quarter-cup of onions, as is called for in the recipe.  I’ve said this before and I mean it every time; if you don’t like onions, you will starve at my house.  I even added more into the salad at the end when I tasted it.  I don’t apologize.  My kitchen, my rules.

I highly recommend that you seed your jalapeño, especially if you’re not absolutely positive that everyone who’s going to eat this likes fiery foods.  I’ve made this unseeded before…it goes from summer salad to Ain’t No Joke salad pretty quickly.  All the heat lives in the seeds and surrounding membranes, but those are easy to remove with the cunning application of a teaspoon.

Really.

A teaspoon will fit quite nicely into the cavity of a jalapeño or serrano or just about any other hot pepper.  Dig the spoon under the seeds in the pepper and give it a good, firm scrape.

All hail the multitasking teaspoon!

I wouldn’t even worry about wearing gloves if you de-seed your peppers this way.  Everything will come out with the spoon, and you can drop the scrapings in your compost pile and move on.  Of course, if you don’t want anything that has any heat at all, by all means use about a half a bell pepper.  Use red.  It will add some color and has a more robust flavor than a green bell pepper, so it will help compensate for the loss of the grassiness from the jalapeño.

Once the corn is out of the water and cool enough to handle (it can still be sort of warm when you start working with it, you just don’t want to burn yourself), slice the kernels off the cob.  For those who don’t know how to do this, it’s pretty simple.  Stand your corn in a utility bowl, and slice your knife down the side of it.

Pretty straightforward, no?

For extra fresh corn credit, take your new favorite workhorse utensil–the teaspoon–and run it down the cut sides of the corn cobs.  It will pull out even more delicious, sweet corn pulp and in these tough economic time you can be virtuous in using every edible thing on the cob.

And then here’s what you have left to do:

A little olive oil, a little honey, a little cilantro, and some fresh lime juice. Sounds like a snack in Heaven.

A few things:

1) One lime should render two tablespoons of juice.  If your lime is hard and seems like it won’t give up much juice, then by all means, stick it in the microwave for ten seconds.  That’s what I did.  Voila!

2) Make sure you use a good, fruity, extra-virgin olive oil.  You want something that’s got some savory heft of its own, not just a salad oil that disappears into the background.

3) You don’t have to use buckwheat honey.  I have it at home right now and chose to use that because I love its complicated flavor profile (please note, I could have used Mr. Clover Honey Bear, sitting in the background on his head, but I didn’t).  If what you have is Mr. Honey Bear or agave syrup or whatever, then by all means, use that.

4) Have extra cilantro on hand in case you decide you want some more.  🙂  Just saying.

5) The star ingredient that brings this whole dish to a special plateau is…

Ground cumin.

Ground cumin gives the dish a little bit of smoke, and a little bit of depth, in a dish that dances on the edge of being one-note-sweet.  You can toast and grind your own cumin seeds to get the freshest, deepest flavor possible but if your objective is simplicity, then let the good people of Badia do the grinding for you.  When it’s this hot out, stay out of the kitchen when you can.

And now, we combine.  Everything.  The corn, the berries, the cuke.  All your spices.  Everything, in a gloriously unceremonious free-for-all.  Toss in a little salt and pepper to taste and then?  Cover it and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour.  If you decide to add any additional spices–more cumin, another bit of cilantro, some pepper–don’t do so until you’ve given the flavors a chance to mingle in your fridge.  What may taste a little drab when you first mix it can become a lovely symphony once your ingredients have gotten to know one another.  For me, it’s onions.  Always gotta be onions.

Once you’re ready to eat…

Behold the bounty of summer!

Don’t be shy.  Dig in.  And I’ll see you in a shady spot, plate in hand, far away from a hot stove.

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