011: Cucumber

Cucumber is another vegetable that is generally only used for a couple things. Salads and pickles, pretty much. We don’t even have cucumber sandwiches, here. Mostly just at Subway! I’ve always liked cucumber. Of course, it’s always just been as pickles or in salads or sandwiches. One time I made a Chinese dish with cucumber, but I can’t remember anything about that. Given my thinning options for summer ingredients, cucumber is up next, on week 11.

Menu (serves 4)
Thai Cucumber Soup with Cucumber-Feta Toasts
Cucumber-Dill Risotto with Baked Cucumber and Creamed Mushrooms
Cucumber-Mint Sorbet

Cucumber-Mint Sorbet
-2 cucumbers
-large handful of fresh mint
-3/4c sugar
-3/4c water
-1T gin
-1t lime juice

Another ice-cream maker recipe, so make sure you prepare the machine for use ahead of time!

First, make a mint simple syrup. Heat the sugar, water, and mint in a saucepan at medium heat. Dissolve the sugar, and let the mixture boil. Kill the heat.
While the syrup cools, chop up the cucumber. Throw it in a food processor and puree it. You’ll have to scrape the sides, and it’ll probably take a little while for the texture to really get where it needs to be. When it’s smooth-ish, add the syrup, along with the boiled mint leaves. Blend it together. Add the gin and lime juice.
Put the mixture into the ice cream machine. I don’t know how much this really helped, in this case. It seemed to just freeze it, which is what a freezer does. But, if you have one, you might as well, I guess. When it doesn’t look like any more progress is going to be made (my sorbet was in a solid shape and was just rotating along with the agitator), spoon the sorbet into a container to put in the freezer.

Cucumber-Feta Toasts
-1/2 baguette
-3 oz feta
-1/2 cucumber
-1/2 lemon
-3T olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450. Cut the baguette lengthwise. Put the olive oil in a little bowl. Brush the insides of the bread with olive oil, then mix the remaining olive oil with the feta and juice from the lemon. Spread the feta mixture across the bread. Slice the cucumber really thin, and lay the slices over the feta. Check out the link and look at how Martha’s came out! I wanted to preserve that overlapping. Put the bread in the oven for 5 minutes.

Thai Cucumber Soup
-2T butter
-2T green onion
-1 1/2 cucumbers
-1/6c red wine vinegar
-2c chicken broth
-1c water
-1 jalapeno
-3T cilantro
-1T lemongrass
-2 cloves garlic
-1/2T fish sauce
-1/2t soy sauce
-1/2t ground ginger
-2T fresh ginger

Before I made this recipe, I simmered the broth with crushed garlic, chunks of fresh ginger, and the lemongrass. When it smells the way you want it, remove it to a bowl or something, and dry out the pot.
Skin the cucumbers, cut them in half, and cut thin slices. I skinned them with a knife, to get thick strips for use as the garnish for the sorbet. Squish the cilantro in a ball against the cutting board, and chop a good amount. Cut open the jalapeno, scrape out the seeds, and mince. Chop the green onions. Cut the garlic into thin slices, not mince.
Melt the butter in the dried pot. Saute the green onions and garlic until they soften and become fragrant. Add everything else, and stir it up. Simmer for half an hour.
Bowl the soup, and garnish with the cucumber toast.

Cucumber-Dill Risotto with Baked Cucumber and Creamed Mushrooms
-3 cucumbers
-2c chicken broth
-3/4c arborio rice
-8 oz button mushrooms
-1/2c heavy cream
-1 white onion
-1 clove garlic
-2T green onion
-3T fresh dill
-1T basil
-4T butter
-2T olive oil
-2T grated parmesan
-1/2T cornstarch
-1T white wine vinegar
-1/4c white wine

Preheat the oven to 375. Skin 2 cucumbers, cut them in half, and scoop out the insides. Cut each half into four sticks, then each stick into 3 or 4 long pieces. Chop the green onion. Put the cucumber and onion in a bowl. Toss with the vinegar, a little salt, and a tiny bit of sugar. Drain right afterward, then dry. I used paper towels.
Put 2T butter in a glass baking dish, and put it in the oven. When it’s melted, pour the cucumbers and green onion in. Bake for about an hour, tossing the cucumbers a bit every once in a while. After that time, it’ll look pale and nasty, but it should taste pretty good! Cut your mushrooms into nice, bite-sized pieces. I ended up with very small mushrooms, so I just cut them in half. Some of them I left whole! Cut the last cucumber into small cubes.

Dice the white onion, and mince the garlic. Crush and chop the dill finely. In a skillet or heavy saucepan, add 2T olive oil on medium. Saute the onion until it’s soft. Pour in the rice and garlic.
From this point until the risotto is done, you’re going to have to stir almost constantly. Small breaks are okay, but you have to be next to the stove the whole time. Anyway, stir the rice. It’ll start going a bit translucent. When that happens, add the wine. Stir it in until it’s absorbed. Salt and pepper the risotto.

Add half the broth. Stir! Stir and stir. This big dose of liquid will give you a little time; heat some more olive oil over medium-high heat. Throw the diced cucumbers in, and season with salt and pepper. You don’t have to pay too much attention, because we want a good sear on the cucumber. Pay attention to the risotto! Keep stirring it. Don’t let any of it stick to the pan. Toss the cucumbers to keep them from burning. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over them.
When all the broth is absorbed, add the other half, either all at once or in little increments (the recipe says to dump all of it in, but it’s more traditional to just do it a bit at a time). Add the dill, and stir it in. When the cucumber is browned, shut off the heat. Keep tending to the risotto. When it’s absorbed all the broth and is still a bit porridge-y, add the cucumber and grated parmesan. Cook until it’s a consistency you like.
Melt the remaining 2T butter in a skillet. I used the same one as the cucumbers, but that might have been a mistake as the remaining oil seemed to kind of mess up the cream sauce. Anyway, throw the mushrooms in to cook in the butter. Add a little splash of white wine. When they look ready, and cooked through, add the baked cucumber, the cream, and a cornstarch slurry made with the 1/2T cornstarch. Stir this around to coat everything, and let the sauce sink in a bit. Chop the basil, and stir it in.

Plate with the risotto. It needed a little color, so I sliced up another lemon and garnished with a wedge and a dill sprig.

(note the greasy sauce; leftover oil from the cucumber saute, or some other mistake?)

Report

I don’t know what to think about this menu. Nothing was bad. Everything worked reasonably well, and tasted good. But I feel dissatisfied with it. It just felt kind of lackluster, I guess. It was simple, and low effort, and despite that, the sorbet, the soup, the cream sauce, and the toasts didn’t come out how I really wanted.
The toast was a matter of me being impatient and rushing them to get dinner out; if I had let it bake longer it probably would have worked great. As it was, they were good, and the least of the failures. The cucumbers didn’t really get cooked, which wasn’t my intention, but I liked that I had raw cucumber in there somewhere. These were tasty. I would have preferred to have them stand alone, but the soup looked so boring that I felt like I needed to pair it with something colorful and interesting.
The cream sauce, as I said, was greasy. It was impossible to photograph well. It was, however, delicious, and also not a major screw-up. I really enjoyed the baked cucumbers. They were simultaneously crunchy and soft, mixed well with the cream sauce, and were a really unusual way to eat cucumber. Also they’re a Julia Child recipe! That’s cool, right?
The sorbet was grainy and didn’t hold together well. I would have preferred a more ice cream or gelato-like dessert. Flavor-wise, it worked exactly how I wanted, and was very refreshing. It was surprisingly complex. The cucumber came through, the lime and mint were very present, and the gin was there, if faintly. I might actually add more gin in the future. This recipe could probably also make a weird gin slushie thing?
I was most disappointed with the soup. It tasted good, and essentially how I expected, but none of it was loud enough. I wanted more fish sauce, more spice, more sour. Those could have been fixed at any point, basically, but I guess I was worried about messing it up. It was good, after all, and fish sauce hasn’t been very forgiving when I overuse it. I also should not have put the cilantro in until the end. Though the recipe calls for it, putting it in prior to cooking turns them all olive-brown and unappealing.
I liked how the risotto came out, but again, not enough flavor. The cucumber went well with it, and so did the creamed vegetables.
So, there we go. I wasn’t sure I could get this to work, and I came up with dishes, but I’m not sure I really was able to get it to work. I don’t know how much confidence I have in cucumbers as a main ingredient, in the end. I was pretty timid about using other ingredients, afraid the cucumber would get drowned out. It resulted in food that was all the same color, and in some cases a little bland. I’m also disappointed in my creative process this time around – everything I made was from a recipe, where the only changes were to account for ingredient shortages or to make it more cucumber-y. I’ll be trying this theme again next year, and probably using cucumbers in upcoming dishes, to practice their application. Hopefully I’ll end up with a more exciting result.

Next Week: Berries

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1 Comment

  1. Julie

     /  August 12, 2012

    The cucumber/feta toasted baguettes were great and I’d love to have them for lunch sometime. Also liked the risotto very much. Cooked cucumbers were a revelation!

    Reply

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