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Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


When the sudden presence of the sun makes temperatures soar, London becomes a steamy, sticky cauldron of sweaty, sunburnt people with no clue how to keep cool.... Enter the humble cucumber, widely disregarded by most as 'boring'. Oh how wrong you are. Used plentifully in so many cultures, but underused and mistreated by us Brits for reasons unbeknown to myself. Being Iranian, cucumber has very much been a part of my culinary upbringing. It is usually a salad staple, but two particular dishes that i remember as a child are "Maast-O-Kheeyar", which is thick yoghurt and cucumber served as a prelude to a meal or as a cooling accompaniment... and the other is Salad Shirazi, a very simple salad of finely diced cucumber, tomatoes and onions, with an oil & lemon juice dressing, often served on the side of a main meal. Both of these dishes are so simple and we eat masses of the stuff! The yoghurt dish has many different variations, all still using yoghurt and cucumber, but some add dried mint, walnuts, rose petals, raisins and even freshly chopped dill. The rules are, there are no rules. Indians have Raita which is incredibly similar to our dish and the Greeks have Tzatziki, with the extra addition of garlic (which i just love!).

But ask yourself what these countries have in common? Hot climates? Soaring temperatures, especially in the summer? Yes... Well done! Cucumber and yoghurt are both reputed to cool body temperature, so it is commonly served with most meals, summer or winter time. Although we dont really chew on the skin like you Brits do, we peel them. But the one part of cucumber prep i feel is not just odd, but almost sacrilegious... and that is the needless scooping out and discarding of the soft pulpy centre of the cucumber. WHY?????!!!! What kind of madness is this? I have heard all kinds of pathetic excuses for this "It makes it too watery", "It tastes bitter"... And i say RUBBISH. If anything, i feel the cucumber is more dull and becomes a one dimensional texture without it. Don't do it!

So the phrase "Cool as a Cucumber" must have come from somewhere, eh? Indeed. So what can you do to make it more exciting? Well apart from my suggestions for Iranian salads, how about a nice Greek Salad? Olives, feta, tomatoes, cucumbers and some dried mint... so simple and so delicious with a lemon dressing. Or for those who like a bit of spice, Thai chicken or beef salad? Take a cooked chicken breast or rare-seared steak, sliced into thin strips (no exacting here, do what you like) and peel half a cucumber, half it length ways and cut thick strips the size of your little finger, using half a peeled red onion, slice them thinly into half moons and add some chopped coriander and mix it all into a bowl, adding the juice of a whole lime, 2 large tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce (and some fresh chilli if you like) and a couple of drops of sesame oil and serve with some salad leaves or some nice Basmati rice.

So don't neglect the humble cucumber this summer, its so underrated and could do with a revival, especially with the hot summer ahead. Its cheap and cheerful and makes a great snack and if the large ones arent your thing, your local Turkish, Middle Eastern or Iranian supermarkets sell delightful little mini cucumbers that are wonderfully sweet and can be eaten with the skin on. Iranians like to take a bite and season with salt and take another bite (repeating until it disappears!!!)

Cucumbers also appear on many cocktail lists in top bars throughout the world... Great with alcohol (think Pimms!) again because of its cooling properties, cucumber 'water' is made and mixed to perfection with Vodka and the like. Yummy! If booze isnt your thing, whizz half a peeled cucumber with 2 apples and a handful of juicy strawberries and also raspberries and you have a delicious summer fruit cocktail! No hefty price tag either, just because it came from some Hippy Organic Juice Bar!
All that is left to tell you is to take whichever cocktail you like, into the sun-filled garden, baste yourself with suntan lotion, taking 2 slices of cucumber with you and place them on your eyes and bake yourself in the sun until your nice and golden brown!!! And if you go lobster red? Slice cucumber length ways and apply to sunburnt areas for instant relief! Coooooooooooooool!!!!

1 comment:

  1. what a fun post sounds wonderful you can really write, will enjoy reading your posts lol Rebecca