Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Fest 2010: Week 1 -- Cukes and Zukes

For the last two summers a cross-blogging celebration of summer's hopping bounty has been organized by Margaret Roach of Away to Garden and Deb Puchalla of Scripps. Deb invited me to join their garden party, this year called Summer Fest 2010. Each Wednesday those of us involved will be writing about a specific kind of produce--with stories, tips, and recipes, of course--and let you know who else in our little cross-post fest is involved so you can see what they're doing, too. Some of the other blogs involved are Matt Bites, White on Rice Couple, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, Homesick Texan, and Simmer Till Done. So, I'm in amazing company!

And so are you -- because this is meant to be a vast collaborative effort. The more info we all give, the more we'll all enjoy summer's harvest. Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting with our posts of Wednesday, July 28, for five Wednesdays through 8/25 and possibly longer, you can contribute in various ways, big or small.
  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas.

Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big red tomato Summer Fest 2010 badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #summerfood as our hashtag.

Here's the schedule:
  • 7/28: cukesnzukes
  • 8/4: corn
  • 8/11: herbs, greens, and beans
  • 8/18: stone fruit
  • 8/25 tomatoes
  • more to come if we all want it — stay tuned!
This week is all about cukes and zukes. Now, I have to admit that neither of these is what make me pant for the beginning of summer. I see cucumbers all year round, thanks to living in San Diego. I do like them but I'm not exactly worshipful. In the case of cucumbers, I think it was because for too many years I was served those tasteless conventional cukes in big ugly chunks in salads made of iceberg lettuce and topped with equally tasteless pale slices of tomato, all smothered in bottled chemically Italian dressing.

Well, forget those guys and come with me into a more beguiling world of Persian cucumbers, English cucumbers, and lovely little mini white cucumbers. Even gorgeous variegated Armenian cucumbers, which are actually relatives of honeydew melon.

You can find Persian cucumbers at Middle Eastern Markets, of course, but also at the big chains in packages called "mini snacking cucumbers." But, here's what they look like:

English, or "hot house" cucumbers are everywhere -- they're the looong skinny cukes sealed in plastic because their thin skins are so delicate. They're my go-to cuke because they're sweet and so easy to use since they don't need peeling and have so few seeds.

Mini white cucumbers, which are actually yellow, are thick like conventional cucumbers with the same big seeds. Buy them as small as you can for real flavor. As someone at the Suzie's Farm stand at the Mission Hills farmers market told me, "These cucumbers taste like summer."

And here are the marvelous Armenian cucumbers. Their looks speak volumes but they're also very tasty.

Another cucumber variety I enjoy is the Japanese cucumber, which is slender with a thin skin and small seeds. You can find them at Asian markets. On a hot summer's day, I'll use a hand-held mandoline and slice Japanese cucumbers into a bowl, cover the slices with rice vinegar and refrigerate them for about an hour. When they're ready to eat, I sprinkle the marinated cuke slices with toasted sesame seeds and hot pepper flakes, pull out a pair of chopsticks and nosh on them while reading a good book. It's really a summer tradition.

Then there's the Mexican gherkin. I don't have a photo unfortunately but imagine the tiniest watermelon possible, maybe an inch or two long at the most. That's what they look like. They're adorable and I've enjoyed them pickled by my friend Melissa Mayer. Suzie's Farm grows them so you can check and see if they have them at the farmers markets or at Specialty Produce.

For a meal on a steamy summer day, I'll turn cucumbers into a cold soup with yogurt -- not Greek-style yogurt, but the looser version. This week, I bought Persian cucumbers (okay, I'll admit, I usually slice them up and drop them into the leftover juice in the empty pepperoncinis jar to create no-work pickles). And I bought radishes. Hmmm, I changed up my long-time recipe to create what I'm calling Cucumber and Radish Confetti Soup.

Cucumber and Radish Confetti Soup
Serves 4

1 large English cucumber or 3 good-sized Persian cucumbers (about 6 inches long)
1 dozen radishes
2 cups unflavored yogurt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fenugreek (for a different flavor, try dill or mint -- they're all equally good)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and discard. (If you're using a conventional cucumber first peel the skin; for the other types, leave the thin skin on for color.) Cut into chunks and put in the bowl of a food processor. Trim all the radishes and cut all but one into chunks and add to the food processor. Save the remaining radish for garnish. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and blend thoroughly. Remove to a bowl, cover, and chill at least two hours or overnight. Just before serving, slice the remaining radish very thinly, again with the little mandoline, and use it to top the soup. Feel free to squeeze in a little hot sauce when serving.

Now for the zukes. Get out that mandoline and slice zucchini or other summer squash into long thin strips to marinate in olive oil, garlic, and herbs and create zucchini carpaccio. Or hollow them out and stuff them. Buy baby zucchini and grill them to serve as a side dish.

Or, make zucchini pancakes. I did this recently at Olivewood Gardens, where I'm a volunteer cooking teacher for local low-income grade school kids. My friends who are parents of young children warned me, "no way, they won't eat them." I was expecting the big "Ewww." Well, not only did these 4th graders devour the pancakes, but some of the kids came up to us in the kitchen as we were cleaning up and asked if they could have more to take home. I originally published the recipe last March when I first used it at Olivewood, but this recipe is a favorite and since we're in the height of zucchini season, it's worth repeating.

Zucchini Pancakes

Makes about two dozen, three-inch pancakes.

1 pound of zucchinis
1 large yellow onion
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup of Panko or seasoned bread crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil or olive oil for frying

1. Cut off the ends of the zucchini and grate each one coarsely, using the big holes of a grater. Put the grated zucchini in a colander and the colander into a bowl and let the liquid drain from the zucchini.
2. Cut the onions in half lengthwise and remove the skin from the onion. Then grate each onion coarsely, using the big holes of a grater. Add the grated onion to the zucchini in the colander to drain. Feel free to gently but firmly squeeze the grated vegetables to get out as much liquid as possible.
3. Put the vegetables in a large bowl and add the Panko, baking powder, the herbs, the garlic (if you’re using it), and the salt and pepper. Stir it all together to fully mix ingredients. Add the eggs and mix well. The batter should be moist but not runny.
4. Heat ¼ inch of oil in a hot pan. Place a tiny bit of the batter in the pan. If it begins to sizzle, the oil is ready for the batter. Use a large spoon and drop the batter into the pan and flatten into a pancake. Don’t crowd the pancakes by putting too many in at one time. Cook them for several minutes on each side until the pancakes are golden brown. Put the pancakes on a plate with paper towels placed on top to drain. Then serve with applesauce or sour cream.

And, here is this week's list of participants with a link to their blogs and their Twitter handles:

Margaret Roach
awaytogarden.com: pickling tips and tricks and freezing the excess

Deb Puchalla (all Scripps/Food Network sites)

Elizabeth Gray: cuke salad and lighter cuke/zuke eats

Kirsten Vala and Sara Levine (FN Dish and Cooking Channel): zucchini bread + riffs

Michelle Buffardi – Cooking Channel’s Devour the blog (Scripps): 10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with Zucchini

Alison Sickelka: three zucchini appetizers
Food2 blog (Scripps)

Kelly Senyei
www.justataste.com: cucumber and sesame salad

Jennifer Iannolo

Chef Mark Tafoya

Alice at Alice Q Foodie

Nicole at Pinch My Salt

Caroline at The Wright Recipes
www.thewrightrecipes.com/: marinated summer squash salad

Cate O’Malley at Sweetnicks.com
http://sweetnicks.com/weblog/2010/07/summerfest-2010-indian-cucumber-wraps/: Indian Cucumber Wraps

Shauna James Ahern
glutenfreegirl.com: turning cold cucumber soup into popsicles

Paige Smith Orloff
thesisterproject.com/orloff: zucchini/summer squash bread pudding recipe, as well as links to a couple of pickling/preserving ideas

Diane and Todd/White on Rice Couple
whiteonricecouple.com: prosciutto, sour cream and feta stuffed cucumbers

Tara Weaver
teaandcookies.blogspot.com/: stuffed zucchini, zucchini "noodles" and pickles

Alana Chernila
www.eatingfromthegroundup.com: cucumber-mint sorbet with lime shortbread
Twitter: @edability

tigressinajam.blogspot.com: jams
http://tigressinapickle.blogspot.com/2010/07/can-jam-july-round-up-cucurbits.html: pickles

Judy Witts Francini
www.divinacucina.blogspot.com: fried zucchini blossoms and more

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  1. Here I am with my contribute!

    As requested, let's start cross commenting and visiting blogs! This is my post, a quinoa tart with raw baby zucchini and sun dried tomatoes!

  2. Loving this roundup of cuke varieties--I'd kill to try the tiny Mexican gherkins you describe, and oh, those Armenian cukes make me swoon! I'm all about the good, the bad, and the (no, never!) ugly of zucchini over on The Sister Project today. Be sure to stop by for a funny vintage recipe, my own favorite zucchini main dish, and more! So glad to be SummerFest -ing with you!

  3. Oh how I love Persian cucumbers!!

    My contribution to the Summer Fest is Cucumber, Feta, & Walnut. A very yummy and refreshing combination!


  4. Wow! this is AWESEOME! How can I participate?

  5. Wow, summerfest sounds like fun! I am excited to get a lot of new ideas and share some of my own. I’m a newbie blogger but really enjoying it so far!

    Please check out my Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread:

  6. Excited to join the Summer Fest fray this year! Just posted my tangy Wilted Cucumber & Radish Salad:

    And Paula Deen's zucchini bread, also part of the Summer Fest fun, reminded me of my perfect family finger food, Zucchini Muffins, great for toddlers up to big kids (including the big kid in you!):

    Can't wait to try the other zukes and cukes recipes!

  7. I didn't get to plant zucchini this year. But I happily find myself receiving zucchinis grown in friends' gardens. What fun.

    I have fresh zucchini to make my favorite zucchini bread. I've used this recipe for years. I've tried others, but always come back to this Wisconsin farm-woman's recipe. Here's a link to the recipe and a story about garden-giving reciprocity. http://food-fun.wisconsinfood.com/edible_antics/2008/09/food-fun---givi.html

  8. Check out my post on Zucchini Pasta with Chicken...my favorite summer dinner!


  9. Thanks for the shout-out! As I mentioned on my blog, your radish and cucumber soup sounds pretty amazing, and couldn't be more perfect for summer.

    Check out my Marinated Summer Squash Salad and my Cucumber Salad with Lemons and Poppy Seeds at my blog, www.thewrightrecipes.com.

    So happy to be feasting at the Summer Fest 2010 with you!

  10. Wow, so much cukeandzuke love! Who knew... Kelsey, if you want to participate, just jump in -- either with your own blog if you have one or by posting tips and recipe links on this page or those of the other participants!

  11. I'm so excited about SummerFest! My zucchini's are going crazy so I've been constantly working on new recipes for them these past few weeks! This year, my favorites include:

    Garlic Ginger Zucchini Pickles

    Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread with Chocolate Chunks & Ginger

    Southwestern Garden Succotash (which actually features a number of garden vegetables coming up on the SummerFest line-up)

    and, from a previous post, my favorite lentil salad which is best with fresh cucumbers and basil from the garden

    Can't wait to peruse the other recipes! I'm going to be eating our zucchini for weeks!


  12. Those pancakes look scrumptious!
    Here are some more squash recipes:
    Stuffed Zucchinis
    Cucumber Water
    Squash Blossoms

  13. I am loving all of your recipes and the entire summerfest idea. I am adding / Cucumber Pineapple Salad http://dejavucook.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/cucumber-pineapple-salad and for the squash lovers/ Chilled Zucchini Soup http://2010/06/15/chilled-zucchini-soup/

  14. I love zucchini! They are the quintessential summer food. I am looking forward to perusing all the recipes. This is my contribution to the Summer Fest:

  15. Hooray for Summer Fest! I’d like to submit these zucchini “noodles” with avocado garlic dressing:


    As well as this refreshing cucumber sorbet:


    And some good old reliable lacto-fermented pickles (a recipe that’s really adaptable; I just made a batch with garlic, tarragon and chile pepper)


    I’m really looking forward to reading everyone’s recipes…and I’ll try to do a dedicated Summer Fest post next week ;)

    Winnie @ http://twitter.com/drwinnie

  16. Me me me! It's not much, but I wrote about a delicious cucumber condiment for lamb: http://hedonia.seantimberlake.com/hedonia/2010/07/lambchops-with-minted-cucumber.html. Thanks for the inspiration. I hope to play along all summer!

  17. Here is my contribution, I didn't realize there was already a pancakes recipe up, but mine is a bit different:

    Wendy's Vegetable Pancakes


  18. Here's my contribution. Can be made with a squash combo or all zukes!


  19. Wow! I'm stunned at all the comments filled with marvelous recipes! This is terrific! Thanks!

  20. July gloom in southern California is seriously cramping my veggie garden's style – is it unseasonably overcast in SD, Caron? – but my two zuke plants thankfully are keeping me busy in the kitchen!

    My mother-in-law's "hamburger soup," which calls for 2 large (or 3 small) zukes, has been a lifesaver as of late. I'm a first-time gardener, and can't keep up with all the zukes popping out of our plants. Guess that's a good problem to have!

    The soup is delicious, ridiculously easy to make and full of nutritious veggies:


    Happy eating,
    Connie at Farm with a View, Santa Monica, CA

  21. Connie, it's gray skies here, too. At least in the morning. Yesterday it cleared up and was pretty sunny. But better than a heat wave. We'll be complaining about that soon enough. Thanks for sharing the hamburger soup recipe!

  22. Your cucumber soup and those zucchini pancakes are looking very tasty. The armenian cucumbers are so pretty!

    Here is my Summer Fest contribution:
    Zucchini Feta Cheese Chopped Salad recipe

    Have a delicious weekend!

  23. the Armenian cucumbers look so cool! We'll have to look out for that at the market.
    And thank you for the great soup recipe, it looks lovely!