Its time to celebrate the season with all that is local and right now before the really consistently hot days of summer hit, that means local cucumbers.
Just like strawberries this time of year and the first ripe-off-the-vine tomatoes we will taste in the months ahead, there is nothing quite like a fresh picked, ripe local cucumber. And the beauty of cukes is that they are easy to grow, so local can mean the purchase you make at the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings or a local can be even closer as in right out your back door in your kitchen garden.
Local cucumbers aren’t just for salad any more…
This member of the melon family offers a crisp and crunchy snap to the bite while the watery, sweet almost melon-like taste make cucumbers a wonderful all purpose food this time of year, great for sweet and savory options across the board.
Chop them for salsas, sliced them thin for sandwiches, dehydrate them for chips, bathe them in vinegar-based brines for pickles, and puree them for soups and sorbets.
Cucumbers can help to freshen your breathe and clean your teeth when your toothbrush isn’t right at hand. Try a slice or two of local cucumber after a strong cup of coffee or a spicy meal and you’ll see what I mean.
Local Cucumbers taste good and are good for you, too!
Local cucumbers are a great source of vitamin C, magnesium and potassium and are good for you inside and out. The high water content, makes them a food that will help you hydrate; and they are low in calories ( always a good thing) and offer up a lot of fiber your body can use to help eliminate unwanted toxins.
Feeling stressed? Take 15 minutes to relax and use thin sliced local cucumber as a face mask. The cucumber’s unique anti- inflammatory properties will help sooth and refresh puffy eyes tired from too much screen time at the computer and your skin will feel better too.
The tiny little yellow flowers that spot the vine as the budding cucumbers start to grow are delicious as well, packed with a concentrated cucumber taste, they make a perfect edible garnish for anything lemony or flavored with dill, tarragon or cilantro.
Plenty of time for cooking with dill and tarragon this summer, but if you are into cilantro with your local cucumbers – there is no time like the present, as cilantro plants need cooler weather and will go to seed when the hot climes of summer hit.
Not necessarily a bad thing, as the dried seed of the cilantro plant is coriander – one of my favorite spices; but if it is cilantro leaves you seek for soups and salsas, now, while the weather is still relatively cool, is the time to plant and enjoy!
One of my favorite local cucumber-y party foods is a chilled cucumber soup. I use it as a foil for grilled shrimp and as a great excuse to break out fun shot glasses and cute tiny straws to create a clever way to serve. Some people just don’t get cold soups – but when you pour the creamy flavorful broth in a fun class and call it a summer cocktail starter, well then, that’s a different story.
If you are looking for flavors to pair with your cukes and cilantro – turn to citrus. Lemon, orange and even tangerine brighten the taste and aroma of any cucumber recipe. Traditionally, you can add a citrusy flavor by using the juice of the fruit – or a more intense version by using the zest – the yellow, or orange part of the skin of any citrus fruit contains the oils which offer a more intense variation on the fruit’s bright flavor.
Not so traditionally, I’d like to share another way to add great flavor – citrus, spice or otherwise to all of your summer dishes like the chilled cucumber soup, the cucumber salsa and the yummy lemon pots de creme recipe I’ll share in just a moment.
Pair Your local cucumbers with Essential Oils…
But first, my new culinary flavor bomb secret to pair with the taste of your local cucumbers and all other fresh and local produce and proteins: Essential Oils.
At the first of the year I started an easy nutritional cleanse with probiotics and supplements from a company called doTerra. As I happily sipped on water dosed with a couple of drops of lemon essential oil, I became intrigued, to say the least. I started ordering all of the “culinary” oils one by one and have loved experimenting as I add these good for your mind, body and spirit oils to many of my seasonal dishes.
When a fresh lemon to zest isn’t at hand – 2-3 drops of doTerra lemon oil does the trick, same for the cilantro oil in the cucumber soup recipe if I don’t have fresh cilantro in the garden or in my fridge – although, like fresh cilantro, you should add this essential oil sparingly as a little goes a long way.
I’ve been playing around with lots of the essential oils and have loved cooking with them and adding them to my diffuser as well. In fact, as I write this I am diffusing a blend of the same oils I am writing about – cilantro, black pepper, lemon and tangerine – our whole house smells wonderful and the aroma creates a most uplifting feeling in the room.
In the diffuser the aromas of these essential oils brighten the air in the room the same way they brighten the flavor of all of my favorite dishes. And I love that the oils doTerra carries are sustainably sourced with fair trade practices from all around the world. Black Pepper, Fennel, Wild Orange, Ginger and Cassia ( cinnamon) are a few of my favorites so far.
Before we get to all the recipes I wanted to share a video featuring my local cucumber soup with grilled shrimp so you can see it for yourself. The soup and other cucumber-y recipes follow the video.
In addition to writing I teach lots of private hands-on cooking classes for all sorts of occasions. This is a snipet from a private hands-on cooking class – one I taught several years ago. It was a wedding shower given by dear friends in Florida, Pat and James Walker and their daughter Logan Balskus for Logan’s soon-to-be sister-in-law, then Brittany Balskus. This was a class for the ladies, but as you will see, the men were not far away and enjoyed the results of the class as much as those of us involved in all the cooking.
Food and friends always lead to happy memories and I am delighted to share this one, beautifully documented by Pat and James’ son, Logan’s brother, Wes Walker… enjoy…
If you’d like to plan a private cooking class for a wedding or baby shower, birthday party or just a fun couples night out evening, simply shoot me an email at HLNC@carolina.rr.com and we’ll get a date on the calendar.
Meanwhile enjoy these recipes featuring local cucumbers and a few essential oils and the fresh early flavors that the spring season brings.
JUST PICKED LOCAL CUCUMBER LEMON SOUP
4 medium sized local cucumbers
1 cup Greek-style plain yogurt ( I am loving the new yogurt from my friends at UAV Cheese available in Charlotte on Saturday mornings at the Matthews Community Farmers’ market and the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market)
1 cup local Hickory Hills Milk buttermilk (available in Charlotte at Earthfare)
4 drops of doTerra Lemon essential oil OR the zest of one fresh organic lemon
1 Tbsp. fresh minced cilantro OR 1 drop of doTerra Cilantro essential oil
OuterBanks SeaSalt to taste
Grilled shrimp ( optional)
Peel the cucumbers if you would like, but if you are buying local cukes and you know they haven’t been sprayed, I like keeping the skin on for the color that it brings to the soup. Cut the cukes into quarters and place in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree.
Add the yogurt and buttermilk and then the lemon, cilantro oils and OuterBanks SeaSalt to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Taste and adjust seasonings and enjoy.
To grill the shrimp, take off the shells, leaving the tails on. Toss the shrimp in 2 Tbsp. of your favorite EVOO and perhaps 1 drop of the doTerra lemon essential oil. Season with salt and pepper and place on a hot grill pan or in a saute pan and cook for about a minute or so on each side until the shrimp is pink and slightly curled. Remove from the pan and chill until you are ready to serve.
If you don’t add shrimp to the cucumber soup and would like another fun and summery side try this recipe for my Sweet Pea Toasts – you can serve them on toasted bread OR for fun serve them on a slice of toasted sweet potato!
And with your soup of local cucumbers: Sweet Pea Toasts
1 box frozen organinc baby green peas
1 Tbsp. your favorite EVOO
zest of one lemon ( or 2-3 drops of doTerra lemon oil)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. fresh minced mint leaves
1 tsp. fresh minced thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
thin sliced salami or strips of sun dried tomato
toasted bread rounds
Puree defrosted peas till smooth. Fold in olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, minced herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Spread on tasted bread rounds. Top with thin sliced salami or a strip of sun dried tomato.
Local Cucumber and Melon Granité
1/2 honeydew or honeymoon melon
4 local cucumbers, peeled or not, quartered
Puree the cucumber and the melon in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree. Pour the puree into large ice cube trays and freeze for a couple of hours. Pop the cucumber-melon cubes out and pulverize them in a blender to make an ice or granité. Refreeze and then serve whenever you need a light and refreshing little snack or serve as an intermezzo between two heavier courses at dinner. This granité is also delicious atop a bowl of fresh fruit at breakfast!!
SPRINGTIME LOCAL CUCUMBER AND STRAWBERRY SALSA
2 medium cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise
1 pint local strawberries, stemmed and cut in half
1 charred jalapeno, chopped ( to Char: place the fresh jalapeno on a grill pan or in a frying pan and cook over medium heat ( with no oil) until the jalapeno starts to blacken -turn to blacked on all sides and then allow to cool before using.)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 Tbsp. local apple cider vinegar ( I am loving the apple cider vinegar I purchased recently at Windy Hill Orchard in York, SC)
1 Tbsp. organic sugar
Scoop the seeds out of the cucumber halves and then cut the remaining cucumber “shells” into crescent-shaped slices. Toss in a bowl with all the strawberries and jalapeno ( if you remove the seeds the salsa will be more mild; if you chop the seeds into the mix the salsa will be spicier) Mix all ingredients in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Refrigerate.)
in the spring and summer when local produce, like local cucumbers, is plentiful; salsa is a great way to preserve the flavors. Check out a variation on the theme of this salsa recipe with another spicy strawberry salsa recipe I love to serve with grilled local beef from another recent blog post you’ll find here.
And after all the local cucumbers, for dessert try, Heidi Billotto’s Springtime Lemon Pots De Crème
3/4 cup organic sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
4 cups Hickory Hill Milk Cream Top Whole Milk
10 drops doTerra Lemon Essential Oil (optional, but worth it: it will make the final dish oh so lemony)
10 large egg yolks (to make the Pots de Crème extra rich, I use local duck eggs from Rowland’s Row Family Farm – available at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market)
Sweetened whipped cream and fresh local berries, and cucumber flowers for garnish
Preheat at 325 degree oven. Put eight 6-oz. ramekins in a large roasting pan or baking dish with high sides.
In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice and ½ cup of the sugar. Warm over low heat until the sugar melts into the juice. Add in the Hickory Hill whole milk and, stirring occasionally, bring up to a simmer. Just at the point where steam starts to rise off the liquid in the pan, remove from the pan from the heat.
Tip – Take care not to walk away while you are warming the milk. Fresh dairy products can come to a boil quickly and will boil up and over the pan in no time!
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until smooth, thick and light yellow in color.
Temper the eggs gently by whisking in a ladleful of the hot milk mixture into the yolks and then whisk the now warmed yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk.
Cook slowly, over low heat, stirring constantly, 3 to 4 minutes.
Tip – use a wooden spoon to stir the custard and if you keep the tip of the spoon on the bottom of the pan and stir in the shape of a figure 8, then the custard won’t over cook or stick to the bottom of the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat. Drop in the doTerra lemon essential oil and at this point, you can stir in the zest – or yellow part of the rind – from 2 lemons if you would like (with the lemon essential oil, you really don’t need to add the zest, but if you do, but if you do know that a microplane zester makes short work of the zesting process.)
Divide the mixture among individual sized ramekins and place the ramekins in a roasting pan or a baking sheet with sides.
For a gentler cooking process, pour enough hot water into the pan around the filled ramekins so that it comes about one-quarter of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the ramekins with a sheet of foil (simply lay the sheet on top, don’t crimp the edges) and bake for 35 minutes at 325.
Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and place on a heavy duty cake or cooling rack. Let the custards cool to room temperature in their water bath. Remove the custards from the bath, cover them with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving.
Garnish with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, local berries and if you would like edible springtime flowers.
Where to find your local cucumbers and more:
I’ve tried to put the name of the farm by all of the local products I’ve used in recipes here – if you have any questions about where to find something, just comment at the end of this post and I can help you locate what you need.
All the local cucumbers and cucumber flowers I used in the recipes here came from Tega Hills Farm in Ft. Mill, SC…Thanks to my farmer friends Mark and Mindy Robinson for for letting me come in after hours to take photos of cucumbers on the vine in the greenhouse. You may purchase Tega Hills Farms hydroponic lettuces and microgreens, cucumbers and more from the farm store open every day and on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market and at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market.
doTerra Essential Oils are available by online order. If you are interested, email me at HLNC@carolina.rr.com and I can connect you with a person who will hook you up with everything you’ll need to order!
Interested in more? If you’d like to plan a private cooking class for a wedding or baby shower, birthday party or jut a fun couples night out evening, simply shoot me an email at HLNC@carolina.rr.com and we’ll get a date on the calendar.
If you like what you’ve been reading, why not plan to enjoy more? Subscribe to my blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com by simply entering your email in the box at the top of the right hand column on my home page. Posts will come to your inbox as soon as they hit!