Cu­cum­ber is the coolest fruit

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Cu­cum­bers are un­fairly un­der­es­ti­mated in the pan­theon of in­gre­di­ents. Granted, they don’t have the glam­our of a soft, zingy, bull’s heart tomato, or the sex ap­peal of a per­fectly ripe fig; but they are sur­pris­ingly ver­sa­tile and have a per­sis­tent, del­i­cate flavour and re­fresh­ing crunch that can hold its own against some tough com­pe­ti­tion. Smacked cu­cum­bers are bang on trend, a fun thing to cook and a real hit on the “snacks” sec­tion of my Dock Kitchen menu or, as they are here, served as a side with some sim­ple grilled fish. I think peo­ple or­der them for the name: “smacked” is such an elo­quently naughty word and they are sat­is­fy­ing to make for the same rea­son – you lit­er­ally smack the cu­cum­bers with a rolling pin to break them up a bit. This veg­etable GBH (though the cu­cum­ber, like other mem­bers of the gourd fam­ily, is tech­ni­cally a fruit) is ob­vi­ously un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour, but the point is to break the cell walls and re­lease more flavour. You then sea­son the chunks of cu­cum­ber as you will, though for me the must-haves are gin­ger, gar­lic, soy and vine­gar — some­times I also slice a mild chilli and mix it in.

At Dock Kitchen I al­ways have jugs of agua fresca at the top of the menu. We make it with the dif­fer­ent fruits of the sea­son, and of­ten use cu­cum­bers. Mixed with lime juice and su­gar syrup, the del­i­cate cu­cum­ber flavour comes across in a new light. For a bit more of a kick I like to use a slice of cu­cum­ber in place of le­mon in a gin and tonic.

I use cu­cum­bers as a proper veg­etable as of­ten as I use them in sal­ads. They cook very well as part of a fish stew or, as here, roasted with late-sum­mer veg­eta­bles and chicken, where they end up a lit­tle bit like cour­gettes.

Cu­cum­ber curry may seem a bit off the wall. But it’s a tra­di­tional Sri Lankan dish and is com­pletely, to­tally, ut­terly and fan­tas­ti­cally de­li­cious. If you want to up the pro­tein lev­els, add some beau­ti­ful fish.

Makes about six glasses 3 cu­cum­bers 300g/10½oz caster su­gar Juice of 2 limes Ice Sparkling wa­ter A few mint leaves, to gar­nish

Wash the cu­cum­bers, then roughly slice them and place in a large bowl. Add the su­gar, then toss it all to­gether with your hands. Cover with cling film, then leave to mac­er­ate in the fridge for at least two hours.

Place the cu­cum­bers in a blender or food pro­ces­sor and blend un­til fine. Pass through a sieve twice, dis­card­ing any solids. Pour into a large jug, then squeeze in the lime juice. Fill the jug with ice, then top it up with sparkling wa­ter. Rip over a few mint leaves, then pour into glasses and serve.

Serves six You want ev­ery­thing to be cut into sim­i­lar-size chunks 3 ripe plum toma­toes or 300g/10½oz baby toma­toes, or a mix 1 red onion, sliced 2 gar­lic cloves, finely sliced 1 small red pep­per, de­seeded and cut into chunks 1 large aubergine, cut into chunks 1 cu­cum­ber, cut into chunks 1 bunch of basil, leaves picked, a hand­ful put aside to gar­nish 1 tsp co­rian­der seeds, lightly crushed 3 tbsp red wine vine­gar Olive oil 3 chicken thighs and 3 drum­sticks, or a 1.8kg/4lb chicken, jointed

Pre­heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Pre­pare the toma­toes first. Bring a pan of wa­ter to the boil and score each tomato lightly. Very care­fully drop the toma­toes into the boil­ing wa­ter, leave for 30 sec­onds, then scoop out with a slot­ted spoon into a bowl of cold wa­ter. Slip the skins off, then, if us­ing plum toma­toes, cut into large chunks, or if us­ing baby toma­toes, cut them in half.

Place in a large bak­ing tin along with the other veg­eta­bles, the herbs and co­rian­der seeds. Sea­son ev­ery­thing well with salt and pep­per, then pour over the vine­gar and a re­ally good driz­zle of oil. Mix well with your hands and place in the oven for 10 min­utes while you brown the chicken.

Work­ing quickly (so as not to over­cook the veg), heat up a large fry­ing pan with a driz­zle of oil.

Sea­son the chicken with a lit­tle salt, then brown in batches in the pan un­til a deep golden colour. Take the veg­eta­bles out the oven and sit the chicken on top of the veg­eta­bles.

Re­turn, uncovered, to the oven for 20-30 min­utes, un­til the chicken is cooked through and the veg­eta­bles are ten­der and browned at the edges. Sprin­kle with the re­main­ing basil be­fore serv­ing. Ide­ally you want to use a bam­boo steamer for the fish; oth­er­wise, make a par­cel out of grease­proof pa­per

Serves four 4 x 200g/7oz cod fil­lets A large thumb of gin­ger, peeled and sliced into match­sticks 1 red chilli, de­seeded and finely sliced 4 tbsp soy sauce 2 tsp se­same oil A hand­ful of co­rian­der leaves, to serve Smacked cu­cum­bers 2 cu­cum­bers 1 tbsp salt 2 gar­lic cloves, very finely chopped 1 red chilli, de­seeded and finely sliced 2 tbsp soy sauce 1 heaped tbsp caster su­gar 2 tbsp Chinkiang or other ‘black’ rice vine­gar 2 tbsp mirin

If you have a steamer, sim­ply place the cod on a piece of grease­proof pa­per and lay the gin­ger and chilli on top, then spoon over the soy and se­same oil.

Al­ter­na­tively, pre­heat your oven to 200C/400F/gas 6 and use larger pieces of grease­proof pa­per so you can fold up the sides like a par­cel — not too tightly.

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