Cukes-R-Us

M and I just got back from an amazing dry run meal at Chef Gabriel Claycamp’s soon-to-be newest undertaking, Casoulet, (More on that shortly!), and found this email waiting from Christy and Grant at Neighborhood Gardens:

Hey, guru of the kitchen! It’s cucumber overload season. Can you give us a bunch of ideas to get beyond cucumber sticks and cutting them into salads?

And, of course, the perennial question of what to do with all the summer squash/zucchini. Naturally we can google, but then we are overwhelmed with major junk recipes. We would prefer your expert guidance.

Overwhelmed in Northern Minnesota

My answer? Of course! I mean, be still my heart; anything and everything cuke is near and dear to us! So, here’s some ideas for immediate use, as well as long-term storage and enjoyment.

First, some general thoughts.

Cukes are great on sandwiches and they aren’t used for that as much as they could and should be; add them to your favorite toppings, or try replacing lettuce with super thinly sliced cukes.

Cukes make great faux noodles; they’re great sliced thin, lengthwise, and used like lasagna for a cold variant of the dish. You can take it one step further and turn those long, thin slices into spaghetti wanna-be’s as well. Both are tasty and visually very cool.

Few things are more genuinely refreshing during a hot summer than a nice, cold, cucumber salad. Variations are endless, but simple is always best for a starting point

For the salad:
3 Cukes, sliced very thin
1 Tomato, cored, seeded and diced
1/2 sweet Onion, sliced thin and quartered

For the dressing
:
The classic vinaigrette ratio is 3:1 oil to acid, but this is not in any way set in stone. Deepening on the strength and nature of your constituents, let alone your personal taste, you can and should tweak that ratio to your liking. For this salad, we’ll do a classic recipe, but here again, this combination of ingredients lends itself to many variations on the acid side; orange, lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice replacing the vinegar are all delightful. For something this delicate, the oil should always be extra virgin olive oil.

3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dill
Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine all veggies and toss. Add the dressing and toss liberally. Allow to sit, chilled, for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Truly goes great with dang near any meal.

Tzatziki is one of our all-time favorite sauces; if you’ve not tried it, you simply must.

Tzatziki

1 8 oz container of Greek Yogurt, (You can use regular too)
1 med cucumber
2 tbspn olive oil
Juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon, (As you like it)
1 tspn dill, chopped fine, (You can sub spearmint)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt to taste

If you don’t have Greek Yoghurt, plain will do, but find Greek if you can; it is richer, tangier and thicker, all of which are good things when it comes to Tzatziki.

Line a colander or strainer with paper towel and drain the yogurt for 15 to 30 minutes; this is critical in avoiding a runny final product.

Peel, seed and grate cucumber. We used Armenian from our garden, which have wonderful taste and nice, firm flesh. Any decent cuke will do, but make sure it is nice and firm.

Combine everything and mix well by hand, as blending or processing will make your yogurt break down.

Place in a non-reactive bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. This stuff just goes well on dang near anything, but certainly does shine with lamb or pork. Try it as an omelet with feta or mizithra.

And of course, you simply gotta do a quick pickle!

Choose glass jars for your pickles, (And of course, pickle jars work great!). Wash your jars really well and rinse thoroughly.

Cut your cukes into flat slices or quarters lengthwise and size them to the jars you’re using. Keep in mind that the bigger the cut, the longer it takes for everything to infuse.

Pack your jars full but not too full; leave enough room for plenty of brine. Make sure you’re leaving at least 3/4″ from the top of the jar.

For spicing, use a 1/2 teaspoon of dominant notes and a 1/4 teaspoon of minors. Our go-to pickling spice blend includes a Pepper blend (Red, white,black, green) and whole coriander seed as the dominants, with juniper seed, mustard seed, fennel seed, cumin seed, whole garlic cloves, and dill as the minors. Drop the blend right into the jars in equal measure.

For the brine, bring to a boil and stir until well dissolved and combined:
1 cup vinegar
1 cup good water, (Meaning, if you don’t drink your tap water, don’t use it!)
1 Tablespoon non-iodized salt (Iodine makes things turn funky colors and adds a nasty metallic taste, so don’t go there. Use pickling salt, it’s a better mousetrap.)
OPTION: 1 teaspoon of sugar if you like a sweeter pickle

Pour the hot brine over your cukes, making sure they’re completely covered.

Seal your jars; you’re not canning, per se, so you can reuse old lids if they’re clean, and you can reuse original pickle/sauerkraut/whatever lids too.

Refrigerate your jars and do your best to let things work their magic; resist the urge to sample for at least a week, and two weeks are better yet – The longer they hang, the better they get.

Fridge pickles are good for at least 3 or 4 months, if they last that long.

Preserving cukes.

So, you grew or bought a huge patch of cukes, whataya gonna do to keep them for the long run?

Head on over to The National Center for Home Food Preservation and find everything you need to know about virtually any method you’d like to try.

The first and most obvious preservation option is pickling, and this time, we mean water-bath canning as opposed to fridge pickles. The beauty of ‘real’ pickling versus fridge pickling is longevity. Where fridge pickles will last a few months, water-bath canned pickles will easily last a year.

Cukes can be dried and still retain enough flavor and character to be worthwhile for certain uses. You’ll find an excellent how-to paper from the University of Colorado at NCHFP.

What about freezing? Well, the answer for doing so as they stand is, not really. You can., however, do a freezer pickle and you’ll find those do quite well indeed. Simply use the recipe we showed above for fridge pickles and refrigerate your cukes for 24 hours. Transfer pickles to freezer bags or containers along with a little juice and freeze. If you have a food saver / vacuum sealer, they work even better.

And finally, if you still have left overs and can’t think of anything to do with them, then get in your ride and haul ’em over to your local food bank; sharing is always a good option! In fact, maybe you aughta do that first, eh?

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