Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cucumberances

Late August is a peculiar time to start writing about gardening. The summer is coming to an end. The days are getting cooler and the nights are getting longer. The garden is dwindling down but now I finally have a little free time to write.

Today I transplanted Chinese onions and "Red of Florence" onions. I started them in pots and today they graduated to rows in the garden. I planted some white onion sets last week. I should have onions well into November. Every summer I try to save a quart jar or two of chopped, dehydrated green onions. They are so handy for cooking and they keep very well.

Today's bounty included a five gallon bucket of cucumber, a bucket of tomatoes, purple yard long beans, a dozen lemon cucumbers, Chinese cabbage, patty pan and scalloped squash. My lovely and talented Chinese wife, Liu Li Ping is back in Shenzhen, China so Lucky is my garden helper. Sometimes he helps me dig. He's also the official garden greeter when kids and neighbors stop for a visit.

Lucky has recently developed a taste for cucumbers. He thinks they make good toys for fetching and chewing. We have a long row of cucumber vines and we've picked hundreds of cukes this summer. The ones that look like birds or alien sex toys belong to Lucky. He gets the funny looking oversized and odd shaped ones. The good ones, in theory, are supposed to be off limits. Today I noticed two "regular" cukes had disappeared from our little pink wagon. Forbidden fruit I guess.

To handle the garden's excesses we currently have three food dehydrators running in the kitchen. We've also made kimchee and pickles. Last year I dehydrated yellow pear tomatoes, green onions, green beans, summer squash and turnips. Ping makes a very traditional and tasty "side" dish from the squash and turnips. She soaks them in water, drains and browns them in flavored oil. We also like preserved eggplant cooked this way. It goes great with other foods or served alone with with rice or porridge. This summer we started using cucumbers this way.

We raise Chinese cucumbers because we find them more flavorful and versatile. They tend to have softer skin than American varieties. We also raise a few lemon cucumbers that turn yellow when ripe. These tennis ball shaped cukes have a unique taste and texture.

If you are encumbered with excess cucumbers you might want to consider this very simple Chinese treat called Smacked Cucumbers. You can find other recipes online but this is the simplest. Take one large cucumber, lay it on a wood or plastic cutting board and smack it with the flat side of a cleaver. Chop the smacked cucumber into bite size pieces and place it in a colander with a little salt and let it drain for half an hour. (or pat dry with a paper towel) A regular one-handed "slap chop" smash works fine. No need for Hulk smash. Smashing the cucumber breaks open cells in the cuke and allows the flavor from the dressing to penetrate. While the cucumbers are draining, make the dressing. In a bowl mix a quarter cup of chopped garlic (fresh is always better), a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar, a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of sesame oil. For bonus points add a teaspoon of garlic chili paste. Mix dressing ingredients until the sugar dissolves. Place the cucumber chunks on a large plate and cover with the dressing. Enjoy.

Another great "Chinese" way to serve cucumbers is to slice them and serve with tablespoon of pine nuts (pinon or pignolias) mixed in a cup of ground bean sauce. Again, bonus points of you add a teaspoon of garlic chili paste. This makes a great appetizer or side dish.