Cool as a Cucumber: Tante Maria’s Gurkensalat & Summer Memories…

July 30th, 2010 § 9 comments § permalink

Tante Maria’s Gurkensalat – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Tante Maria (my aunt Maria) lives in the southernmost tip of Bavaria, in a small town near München (Munich) Germany. My mother comes from a very, very large family —all still living in Europe— and although I have many aunts, uncles and cousins, I will always feel closest to my Tante Maria. When I think of her and our long summertime visits, I am flooded with warm memories of her cooking, canning, baking and storytelling (as well as various odd adventures). My unmarried, travel-loving Tante would arrive at Boston’s Logan airport on a Lufthansa jet  —arms laden with heavy packages and carts of enormous luggage— in a soft, lemony cloud of Tosca perfume. It was almost impossible to sleep the night before my family made the two hour drive to pick her up, but when I finally did drift off, I’m sure I was dreaming of the contents of her perennially over-gross, goodie-stuffed bags. The edible treats hidden in Tante’s luggage usually included Alpine chocolate, German cookies, Haribo Goldbären, chamomile tea, spices for cooking and baking, and of course, smuggled meats and cheeses for dad. Tante rolled all of these things —as well as dishes and perfume for my mother, biersteins for my father and toys and books for us kids— in delicately fragrant bed linens, hand towels, and wonderfully strange articles of clothing.

München Skyline- Photo by Stefan Kühn via Wikimedia Commons

It seems to me that from the moment she arrived, until the moment she left —usually quite tearfully, six weeks later— Tante Maria ruled our family kitchen and dining room table. No sooner did she step inside the door, than she donned her apron. Spätzle (egg noodles), kartoffelknöedeln (potato dumplings), apfelstrudel (apple strudel), sweet kuchen (coffee cake), and delightfully vinegary kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and gurkensalat (cucumber salad) are but a few of my Tante’s many specialties. And although I tend to cook in a more Mediterranean than Bavarian style, I have added a few of her dishes to my repertoire. My favorite? It’s hard to choose, but I do love gurkensalat —a vinegar-based cucumber salad— especially when it’s hot. In July, when my father picked the first, deliciously fragrant cucumbers fresh from his garden, Tante Maria liked to make a very simple version of this classic German salad; cutting the fruits tissue-paper thin with an old-fashioned, über-sharp slicer (mandolin). On a humid summer day —made with a hefty dose of good, white wine vinegar, a bit of red onion and lots of pepper— this cool salad is truly heaven-on-earth.

Bavarian Checked Bierstein – From King Werks via Amazon

I love cucumbers served most any way —fresh in soups and salads and of course pickled— so I grow lots of them in my garden. Overall, Raider and Holland cucumbers are still my favorite green varieties for flavor, but I have also come to love the taste and pretty chartreuse color of lemon cucumbers. Recently my friend John introduced me to some more exotic cucumbers, including a delicious red variety I hope to grow in my own garden next year. Wonderfully easy to grow on fencing and trellises, cucumbers produce more fruit, grow straighter and are less vulnerable to slugs and other pests when grown on vertical supports. Good cucumber companions include dill, nasturtiums, sunflowers, broccoli, bush beans, radishes, and peas. Avoid planting cucumbers near other cucurbits (squash, melons, etc) as they share similar pests. If you spot cucumber beetles on vines or foliage, they may be controlled with neem oil soap (use only as needed), and squash beetles (which also affect other cucurbits) may be controlled with insecticidal soap and/or garlic spray. Cucumbers prefer a neutral to slightly acidic, rich soil (with plenty of nutrient-dense compost worked in) even moisture and regular applications of fish emulsion to help develop productive vines and tasty fruit. Cukes should be picked frequently —check vines daily when it’s hot— and at a small size for best flavor…

Raider cucumber and Lemon cucumber side by side on a wire fence trellis – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cucumber and cleome – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Lemon cucumbers – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Tante Maria’s Gurkensalat – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Tante Maria’s Gurkensalat

Ingredients (serves 4 as a side salad, easily doubles for increased portions):

2-3   Very fresh cucumbers (more if very, very small), washed, partially peeled and sliced paper thin with a mandolin

1/2  Small red onion, peeled and sliced very thin with mandolin

1      Teaspoon kosher salt

1/3  Cup white wine, rice wine or apple cider vinegar

1      Tablespoon fresh, finely chopped dill (traditional)

Freshly ground pepper

*For a creamy version of this salad, add 1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt

Cool, green stripes – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Directions:

Partially peel the cucumbers with a vegetable peeler (stripes look kind of cool)

Set a your mandolin, or other slicer blade to a very narrowly angled opening. Run the cucumber through to test, and if the resulting slice is thicker than tissue paper, narrow the slit between blades. If you are slicing by hand, you will need to be quite patient and steady. It’s very, very important to get ultra-thin slices as this enhances the cucumber flavor and the delicate texture of the salad. Slice all of the cucumbers and place them in a medium sized bowl. Mix in the salt and cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Remove the cucumbers from the refrigerator and drain. Pat gently with paper towels.

Slice the red onion, again very thin, and toss the separated rings into the bowl with the cucumbers.

Add the vinegar, cracked black pepper and optional dill to taste. Chill for one hour before serving.

If you would like a creamy gurkensalat, drain the chilled mixture and stir in the sour cream or yogurt. Serve garnished with a bit of fresh dill.

Fresh from the garden, red onion – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

I like to use a tasty white wine or champagne vinegar in my gurkensalat – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Ready to Chill – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

The Joy of Thin Slices… My classic Bron Mandolin !

Trellised Cucumbers and Nasturtiums Along the Fence – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Sweet Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil & Golden Peppers & Cultural Notes and Tips from the Kitchen Garden…

July 22nd, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Summertime Risotto ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Endless summer. Between the deep green leaves in my kitchen garden, zucchini plants offer up their tender, young fruit and bell peppers glisten in the morning sun. Green and purple basil plants —pinched to form bushy mounds— brush my ankles, scenting the air as I walk along the pathways. Sungold tomatoes drip sweet from their vines and haricots verts fill my harvest baskets.

This certainly is the season of abundance, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is a simple summertime meal of risotto and garden-fresh vegetables. There are many, many wonderful possibilities when it comes to cooking risotto, and I like to use whatever is plentiful and freshest at any given moment. This week, another half dozen zucchini seem to present themselves every day, and the first ripe peppers have just begun to appear – what a delightful combination with a handful of basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan…

Summertime Risotto – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Summertime Risotto

Ingredients: serves 4 moderate dinner servings or 6-8 as a starter. Double recipe to increase portion size or quantity

2          Tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

3          Small zucchini, washed and  diced (4-5 inch freshly picked zucchini for best flavor)

1          Orange or yellow bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

1          Clove fresh garlic, chopped fine

1          Small to medium sweet onion, chopped fine

1 3/4   Cup Arborio Rice

3          Tbs dry vermouth or dry white wine

3 1/2    Cups homemade or high quality vegetable broth, on simmer

1           Tbs unsalted butter

1/2       Cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese – plus extra for serving

1/2       Cup of fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into small bits. Plus a few whole basil tips for garnish

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on high heat. Add zucchini and orange pepper, quickly sautéing (about 2-3 minutes) until gold. Lower heat and stir in garlic. Cook for another half a minute or so, stirring constantly. Remove and set aside to a plate.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil on medium. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Toss in the rice and cook another 2 minutes, coating the grains in oil. Add the vermouth while stirring. Immediately follow with a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of stock, stirring constantly. When the stock is absorbed, add another ladle, stirring steadily. Continue to ladle in stock as the rice absorbs the fluid. After about 20 minutes, taste the risotto. It should have a very creamy, but firm to the bite, consistency. At this point, stir in the butter, reserved zucchini and peppers and their juice. Add the torn basil and grated parmesan and stir gently. Remove from heat. Drizzle with oil and serve hot with a sprinkle of parmesan and a garnish of fresh basil.

Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil and Orange Bell Peppers – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cultural Notes and Tips for Growing Great Zucchini – From the Kitchen Garden

My vegetable garden is growing and producing well this year, but I still keep a watchful eye for signs of trouble. In high-summer, when the weather in New England tends to be quite humid, I apply a homemade, organic fungicide to prevent powdery mildew on cucurbits (this plant family includes zucchini and other squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more). This simple remedy (see recipe below) is mixed fresh in a pail and applied when the air is still, with a hand spray-bottle. Try to water the garden in the morning, focusing the shower at the root zone. I also patrol the garden for squash bugs (they attack all cucurbits, including cucumbers) removing them by hand when I spot them and applying insecticidal soap to plant leaves. Mint, oregano and nasturtiums are good companion plants for deterring squash bugs, though you may wish to contain aggressive mint —and rambunctious cousin oregano— in planters. Keep in mind that zucchini and other squash should be picked daily to promote fruiting and avoid the dread “door-stop zucchini”. Try to harvest small fruits (4-5 inch long zucchini have the best flavor and texture) in the morning.  Squash are heavy feeders, preferring compost-rich soil with a high nitrogen content. I plan ahead by amending the soil in next year’s squash bed (rotate to prevent disease) with ample compost and dried blood. If the soil in your garden needs work, then squash will benefit from supplemental feeding with fish emulsion during the growing season.

Homemade Anti-fungal Baking Soda Solution

3 Tbs baking soda

2 Tbs vegetable oil

3 gallons (plus) warm water

In a medium sized kitchen bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 2 cups of warm water. Add the oil and whisk together. Pour the mixture into 3 gallons of warm water. Transfer to spray bottles and use immediately, spraying the undersides as well as the tops of leaves. If any is left over, store in the fridge and warm in sun before using.

Use on cucurbits during warm, humid spells and at first sign of powdery mildew. This remedy is also useful for black spot.

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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