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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cooking Cucumber

Most folks (American folks, specifically) would never think to cook cucumber. Cucumber is purely a salad or pickle ingredient in the US. But, there are food cultures who have embraced cooked cucumber. In China, cucumber is never eaten raw (pickled, yes, but not raw) and I have included 2 stirfries with cucumber below. China isn't the only country to enjoy cooked cucumbers though. France - yes, France - cooks cucumber. I can't say I've ever seen it on a menu in a restaurant or cooked it French-style myself, but Julia Child includes a number of cooked cucumber recipes in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I very much enjoy the Chinese treatment of cucumbers. Cooked cucumber is what zucchini wishes it could be. It retains its crunch. It doesn't get watery and Chinese spices accentuate the mild flavor. It's also a great way to use overgrown garden-grown cucumbers. And, are there any gardeners who haven't found a giant cucumber hiding among the leaves? Well, I'm here to tell you there is something you can do with it. If you do use oversized cucumbers, cut off about half an inch on either end. Bitter compounds accumulate there and these pieces will often be quite bitter.

Stir-Fried Cucumber (serves 3-4)

2 large Cucumbers
1 Tbsp Oil
½ Tbsp Garlic, minced
1 tsp Ginger, minced
1-2 tsp Chili Paste
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
¼ tsp Sugar
¼ tsp Salt

Peel cucumbers and cut each one in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each half in two lengthwise again and cut each section crosswise into 1" pieces.

Set a wok or skillet over a high flame and add oil. When oil is hot, drop in garlic, ginger, and chile pepper or paste, and stir for a few seconds. Add cucumber and stir-fry  for 1 minute. Add soy sauce, sugar, and salt and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serve hot.

Link to PDF of Stir-Fried Cucumbers 

Garlic Chicken with Cucumbers (serves 2-4)

¾ pound Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
½ large Cucumber
¼ tsp Salt
2 tsp Peanut Oil
2 tsp Minced Garlic
1 tbl Minced Scallion
2 tsp Soy Sauce
2 tsp Rice Wine Or Dry Sherry
¼ tsp Chili Paste

Cut chicken into 1" cubes and set aside.

Peel cucumber, halve lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Cut lengthwise again, into quarters. Cut quarters into cubes. Sprinkle cubes with salt and put into a colander to drain for 20 minutes. Rinse the cucumber under cold water and blot dry. Salting the cucumber removes excess moisture.

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. When it is hot, add chicken and stirfry for a few seconds. Add the garlic, scallion, soy sauce, rice wine/sherry, and chile paste. Stir fry for another 2 minutes. Add the cucumber and keep stirfrying another 3 minutes.

Link to PDF of Garlic Chicken with Cucumbers


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Slow cooked green beans from the garden

Beans from the garden

I've been gone a while. Shipped the only child off to college (very successful). Traveled around the east coast visiting old friends (also very successful). Returned to a garden overrun with very large green beans. My house sitter wasn't very diligent about picking the beans and many of them got quite large. Like 8-12" long. Even stringless pole beans develop strings at this stage so either you chuck them onto the compost pile or you cook the heck out of them. I have never been a fan of undercooked green beans so cooking them to death (if done properly) does not bother me in the least.

This recipe is as easy as it gets.There is no reason to use small beans here; in fact, that would be a waste of small, tender beans which are best steamed and eaten with a little butter and salt. Save this method for overgrown beans from your garden or large supermarket beans.

This recipe is dedicated to Ronnie. I have many recipes for slow cooked beans and they all include lots of onions. Ronnie does not like onions. Trust me, slow cooked beans are just as good without the onions.

Slow-Cooked Beans
(serves 4)

1 pound large green beans (really big will work fine)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 cups peeled tomatoes (either canned or fresh)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1-2 cups water

1. Wash green beans and remove stems. Cut large beans in half. Don't worry too much about strings because you will cook them long enough to dissolve these.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet with a cover.
3. Saute garlic until golden.
4. Add tomatoes and mash until large chunks break up.
5. Add green beans, oregano, salt, pepper and water. The quantity of water is dependent on how big the beans are. If they are not too big, use 1 cup. If they are really big and need to cook a long time, use 2 cups.
6. Bring to a brisk simmer and cover. Cook until beans are very tender, about 30 minutes.
7. Remove lid and continue to cook to evaporate most of the liquid.
8. Check seasoning and add more salt if necessary. A little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil is nice too.

Link to PDF of recipe for Slow Cooked Beans (no onions)