Ah, I had been expecting the call. For years, for over a decade. My doctor calls me and starts with, “About your blood test …”
I’m fine. I am NOT diabetic. But I am in that “pre-diabetic” category where I have to exercise some judgment. More judgment, Suzen tells me, that I have displayed in the past. This call was a month ago and I’m watching what I eat and drink. I monitor my glucose level and how it changes, which can be interesting. An hour of exercise can drop my level from 130 to 88.
Still, in the past month, I have not had a regular soda. I went cold turkey and, while I do miss my Pepsi, I have found there are lovely substitutes. For example, Cucumber Agua Fresca. This beverage is delicious [because it does contain sugar, for God’s sake!]. The recipe below would give you about half the sugar calories of a standard soda drink, but you can control that by using less sugar.
Ah, the recipe calls for an English cucumber. I wondered just what an English Cucumber was and why it would be recommended.
Well, an English Cucumber is:
- · Longer and more narrow that the usual slicing cucumber
- · Is often bought wrapped in plastic and is unwaxed [you can use without scrubbing, although a rinse is a good idea]
- · Has much smaller seeds — although it is most definitely NOT seedless
- · Has a sweeter taste and a thinner skin
There are over 100 varieties of cucumber, most of them grow in Asia and used in various Asian cuisines. In the United States in 2010, we grew 883,000 tons of cucumbers. But that year in China, they grew 40,709,000 tons. That’s roughly 50 times more. There are four times more people in China but all that means is that, on a per capita basis, in China cucumber consumption is 12 times more than in the United States.
I can’t say that in my Chinese restaurant experiences I have been deluged with cucumber options. So, if any of you out there have any comments here, Suzi and I would love to improve our cucumber comprehension.
This Agua Fresca recipe is from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales by Roberto Santibanez. The original recipe calls putting the cucumber chunks into the water and then later sieving them out. Instead, I’m using our Vitamix — that powerfully engine blender you’ve seen at Jamba Juice. No straining required and you get a little feel of “body” to the beverage.
Cucumber Aqua Fresca
Yield: 4 cups
- 1 English Cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks [it is not necessary to seed the cucumber]
- ½ cup sugar
- Juice of one lemon, about ¼ cup
- 3 cups of water
- Cucumber slices or mint leaves for garnish
- Ice cubes [optional]
- Club soda [optional]
Preparation and Options:
Put the cucumber chunks, sugar, lime juice and one cup of water in the Vitamix. Blend on low at first, then increase to a high speed and blend for one minute. Reduce the speed and add the final 2 cups of water. Increase the speed again and blend away.
Store, refrigerate and enjoy.
At serving time, you have many options. You may wish to add sugar — something I would never do. Not anymore.
You can garnish with cucumber slices or mint sprigs. To keep the chill, you can add ice cubes.
For some fizz, Suzen like this beverage topped off with club soda, say 80% agua fresca and 20% club soda.
If it is fizz you want, of course, there is always the Proseco option. Or a splash of gin or vodka.
So, this agua fresca can stand on its own or be the basis for a very wide range of beverages.
Source: Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales by Roberto Santibanez
Okay, let’s do a scavenger hunt. Go to your bookshelf, the bookshelf you have devoted to cookbooks.
Good. Now go to the row devoted to Asian food.
Good. Now go to the section devoted to Malaysian food.
Good? Or not good?
Oh, you don’t have Malaysian books? Or any Asian books? Good God, no cookbooks?
I can suggest multiple solutions to this gap in your life. You could start with Flavors of Malaysia by Susheela Raghavan. A Malaysia native, she takes you on a brilliant food tour of her extensive land through 150 recipes. Good recipes. Different recipes, and yet not that different.
Take this salad, for example. You’ve had cucumber and tomato salad probably. But now, with some chilies and yoghurt, you get a different experience. This salad is easily made and more easily loved.
Flavors of Malaysia is filled with ingredients you know about but now assembled in new fashions to give you a wonderful new set of flavor notes. It’s an easy book to read and follow, with well written recipes and pictures that will tempt you to buy some curry for your kitchen. Yes, a visit to an Asian market is in your future.
In terms of recipes, start with this salad, to dip you toe in, and then experiment with some challenging flavor combinations you’ve probably not put in your mouth:
- · Pickled Mango Salad
- · Pork Rib Soup
- · Spicy Egg Curry
- · Chinese Stir-Fried Rice Noodles
- · Braised Spicy Long Beans
Flavors of Malaysia is published by Hippocrene Books in New York. They specialize in world cookbooks, with volumes ranging from Estonia to Asia. There are many European cuisines in their repertoire, but it is the Asian books that caught my eye. Start with Flavors of Malaysia and then find other Hippocrene offerings. Then you can journey, foodwise at least, to Laos, Turkey, Lebanon, and a host of other lands.
Spicy Cucumber Tomato Salad
Yield: 5 to 6 servings
- 2 medium (about 1 pound or cups) cucumbers, peeled, cored, and julienned into 2-inch by ¼-inch pieces
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 heaping cup (about 7 ounces) cubed tomatoes in 1-inch pieces
- 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds, dry roasted and pounded or ground or simply use ground cumin
- 4 to 5 fresh green or red chiles (jalapeno, Fresno, Serrano, Thai, cherry, or cayenne), sliced and coarsely pounded (about ¼ cup)
- ¼ cup chopped shallots or red onions
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric powder, if desired
The Final Garnish:
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon black or dark brown mustard seeds
- 8 fresh curry leaves
Rub cucumber slices with salt and let sit in colander with the cucumbers weighted down by a plastic bag of water for about 15 to 20 minutes, until all liquid is drained from the cucumbers. Alternative, place the cucumbers in a non-reactive bowl, add 3 cups warm water or enough to cover, and let sit for about 15 to 20 minutes; drain in a colander and gently squeeze out excess water. Set the cucumbers aside.
Combine the dressing ingredients and blend well. Add cucumber and tomatoes and coast well with the dressing.
Before serving, heat the oil in a small skillet. When hot, add mustard seeds and curry leaves, cover and let the seeds pop. When popping subsides, uncover and pour this savory mixture over the salad.
Source: Flavors of Malaysia by Susheela Raghavan