Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Cool, Cool Cucumbers

Cucumber Basil Limeade & Chilled Indian Spiced Cucumber Soup

Oh lordy, but this heat makes Big Mary cranky! I understand how it must destroy your image of the nuturing, loving, considerate and pleasant, big bear of a love bug that I almost always am, but lately there's just not enough talcum, air conditioning or sno-cones to keep my mind and mood from chaffing.

Work's been slow, but I think that may be the good news. It only takes a few random freelance shifts in an un-air conditioned kitchen with a raging 12 foot gas grill to make you consider permanently taking up residence in the walk in freezer. And I do mean permanent. Talk about your quiescently frozen treat! (Side note here: Ever wondered about that term on the Popsicle box? Turns out it just means frozen at rest. Not frozen while being churned - as in ice cream. Frozen while at rest - as in my fat butt while resting in the walk in freezer.) But alas, a Creamsicle I was not meant to be, so here I sweat with the rest of you, looking for a little relief.

Perhaps this is why Mother Nature steps up her game in such a timely manner come July and August. A perfectly red ripe strawberry does pull my focus from the rising thermometer ... And I do know the hotter the summer, the sweeter the tomatoes about to arrive. As the Farmer's Market begins to swell with stone fruits, tender greens and fragrant herbs, I seem able to relax by surrendering to the coolingperfume of a local canteloupe. Nothing cuts through the heat like an ice cold wedge of watermelon or muskmelon? It's such an intense sweet wetness. No wonder melons have taken on a metaphoric sexiness.

Yet it's cucumbers than have thrown down the challenge of "Who's the coolest?" The answer it turns out, doesn't grow far from the vine. As I started working on this entry I discovered that a cucumber really is a melon, and with a little research learned it shares the same genus as a muskmelon. Like the tomato, the cucumber is really a fruit, not a vegetable.

And this "vegeruit" or "fruigetable" takes a chill like nobody's business. While I know there are recipes out there for warm cucumber side dishes, forget about those for now and get as cool as that cucumber. I'm offering two options for a cucumber chill down. The first is a crazy cool refresco - Cucumber Basil LimeAde. This refresher has also been known to curry the favor of some icy vodka. Then I like to call her "Down the Garden Path".

Cucumber Basil Limeade
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 2 limes – taken with vegetable peeler
1 small Bunch of Basil, at least 20Basil leaves, well washed
1 large Cucumber, peeled, seeded and rough chopped
1 cup water
3/4 Cup Fresh Lime Juice
24 ounces Plain Seltzer, chilled
Basil leaves, Lime slices & Cucumber slices for garnish
Combine water, sugar and lime zest. Bring to a boil and simmer 3 minutes. Add Basil, return to a boil then remove from heat and let cool.
Puree cucumber with the water in a blender. Strain into a pitcher. Add lime juice.
Strain the sugar syrup, discard the basil and zest, and add the sugar syrup to the pitcher. Stir well, add seltzer, ice and garnish (if using)
Serve immediately

The second recipe is a riff on a raita, that classic Indian curry cooler -

Chilled Indian Spiced Cucumber Soup
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 cup yellow or white onion, roughly chopped
1 medium fresh garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon Garam Masala*
1 cup low sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded & diced (about 3 cups)
1/2 medium jalapeño, stemmed, seeded & chopped (or to taste)
2 cups buttermilk
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, packed
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, packed
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Warm olive oil in a medium skillet. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until soft and transparent, 3-5 minutes. Add garam masala, stir, cook 3 minutes, and remove from heat. Transfer into a small bowl and chill.
Prepare remaining ingredients. Note: Jalapeños vary drastically in terms of spiciness of jalapeño for this reason, reserve the second half of jalapeño in case you wish to increase the spiciness.
Place all ingredients in a blender. On a low speed, blend all ingredients. Increase speed to blend the soup into a smooth puree. Serve well chilled.

* Garam Masala is an Indian spice mixture that varies from household to household, but typically contains : black & white peppercorns, cloves, mace, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, star anise & coriander seeds. A great version is available from

And why is it that cucumbers come off as such cool characters.

Copyright Big Mary's Kitchen
Photos by Yder Leon Laya