I was driving back home on Sunday afternoon and got to the point east of Boiceville where the road starts down a long hill, one where the trees fall away faster than the road. So for a couple of hundred feet, you have “The View.” There are three ridgelines on the left and four more on the right. The closest one is just over a mile away but the distant one is nearly twelve.
On a hot, humid day, each of those ridgelines is a single flat color. Dark green close up then fading blues and a final gray on the last, distant ridge. A gray just a shade or two darker than the scary sky. A storm was approaching and I hustled home with my bounty: fresh cucumbers from the farmers market.
Cucumbers originated in India and they remain an Asian staple. The United States grows about 900,000 tons of them a year. In China, they grow 41 million tons. And the weird thing is I have never had cucumber in a Chinese restaurant. Not one that I recognized. I am a fried-fantail-shrimp-and-pork-fried-rice kind of guy. I don’t think you should fry cucumbers, although at some state fair in the Midwest there is probably a fried cucumber stand next to the fried ice cream place.
You can eat cucumbers, drink them, put them on your eyelids. Lately, I have been drinking them. Suzen and I spent a Sunday at a Brooklyn flea market, Smorgasburg, featuring 100 food vendors. That Sunday, too, was hazy, hot and humid and one vendor offered cucumber lemonade. It was cucumber with a slight lemon smack that only fresh lemons can offer. In a word, it was perfect. We shared that cup of pale green liquid, commented on its wonder, and wondered about its construction.
I have a theory about perfect foods. Perfect can get better.
So, I’ve been searching for how to make a respectable [or better] version of cucumber lemonade myself. Some recipes were instantly discarded: “add cucumber juice to frozen lemonade concentrate” sorts of things. Some were mystifying: one lemon and three cucumbers.
I found this recipe at Food.com, but have modified it, using slightly more sugar and only half the water. I wanted a beverage with mouth feel, with body, not a “thinish” agua fresca. So I cut the water in half and found this drink to be “heavy enough” on the tongue.
The other issue at hand is balancing the competing flavors here: soft, gentle cucumber and potentially harsh, acidic lemon juice. This recipe achieves that balance. It is, first and foremost, a cucumber drink with a forward cucumber taste. The lemon comes later and is just a frosting, you never get a pure lemon hit.
Ego aside, I think this recipe is more satisfying than the Brooklyn version. Richer, deeper, and thicker. To get the maximum in refreshment, do chill this very thoroughly. Out of the blender, it’s fine. Out of the refrigerator, it is divine.
Brian’s Cucumber Lemonade #1
Yield: ~4 cups
- 2 English cucumbers, each about 12 ounces
- 2 cups water, divided
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 1 cup sugar
Peel, slice and seed the cucumbers. Cut them into chunks and put them in a blender [a Vitamix is better for this, much better]. Add one cup of water. Process until completely pulverized: a minute or more. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.
Rinse the blender and return the cucumber water to it. Add the sugar and second cup of water. Blend until thoroughly mixed.
Chill before serving and then serve with ice.
If you desire, you can thin the mixture with additional water, up to two cups.
Or, if you desire, you can thin with vodka or gin, flavored or pure.
Source: Brian O’Rourke, inspired from food.com
Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/4 for 1/40th second at ISO‑2500
Pride is not necessarily a sin. You can be proud of that child making the honor roll. Or proud your college team had a winning season after six straight years of … Well, you understand.
The greatest pride that Suzen and I have is when we make dish and then just have to pause to look at it before digging in. When you create something that looks spectacular, that’s an achievement. And a little pat on the back is well deserved. You can pat your tummy later, after consumption.
This is a perfect summer main course. It calls for oven roasting, but you can easily shift to your barbecue if you desire. A late summer night’s meal of fresh salmon is a treat you can become addicted to.
This dish offers everything you could want: intense flavors, visual contrast, hot and cold elements, and — above all — one of those flavor combinations [salmon, sour cream, and cucumber] that seems to have heavenly ordination.
In the background of the picture, you can see that we served this with sautéed greens and rice. You can pair this salmon with salads and side dishes of your choice. The salmon, hearty and spicy, is going to dominate the meal. And that frosting of Cucumber-Sour Cream Sauce will offer an intriguing layer of additional flavor. Did I say frosting? Yes, because this dish is so pretty and so good it might as well be dessert.
Well, I am not trying to say here that if you make this dish you should not have dessert. I would never, never impose such a standard on anyone.
Certainly not on myself.
Although the sauce in the picture looks simple, it is not. Made with arugula and spinach leaves plus mustard, besides the sour cream and cucumber, the sauce has body and complexity that let it complement the salmon. The sauce does not compete with the salmon but it is not overwhelmed by the fish.
The salmon itself develops that pictured thin crust you see from a healthy coating of soy sauce, wine, and orange juice. The crust does snap at you but only pleasantly. And the sauce is there to sooth the whole experience.
After intense salmon, think of ice cream with rich dairy to coat your mouth and erase lingering flavors notes. I’ve tried this combination many times. It works. You can ask my wife.
If you need an ice cream recipe that is unsurpassed, look for tomorrow’s post.
Oven Roasted Salmon with Cucumber-Sour Cream Sauce
Yield: serves 6
For the Salmon:
- 6 six-ounce salmon fillets with the skin on
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- ⅓ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Cucumber Sour Cream Sauce:
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated
- 1 ½ cups baby spinach leaves (packed)
- 1 ½ cups arugula leaves (packed)
- 1 shallot, roughly chopped
- ¾ cup sour cream
- 3 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
- Chopped chives, scallions or herbs of your choice
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. [Or your barbecue grill!]
For the salmon, in a 13x9x2-inch baking dish place the wine, orange juice and soy sauce. With a paring knife, score the salmon skin by making an "X". Season the salmon with salt and pepper and place in the marinade flesh side down. Cover, turning occasionally and set aside.
For the sauce, place the spinach, arugula and shallot in the bowl of a food processor and finely chop. Add the sour cream and mustard, lemon zest, lemon juice, and cayenne and process until blended. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the cucumber, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Remove the salmon from the marinade shaking off any excess liquid. Transfer the salmon to the baking sheet skin side down, sprinkle salmon with salt. Roast salmon in the oven until fish is opaque in the center, about 10 to 12 minutes.
To serve, transfer salmon to serving plates, top with a generous dollop of cucumber-sour cream sauce and garnish with chopped chives or scallions or herb of your choice.
Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2003
Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/5.6 for 1/100th second at ISO‑1600