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Groundwork: Cucumber Cool

The veggie demo garden at Green Spring Gardens. (Adrian Higgins -- The Washington Post)

July brings cucumbers at the vegetable garden at Green Spring Gardens in Northern Virginia, perhaps a little late this year due to the cool and wet weeks of late spring and early summer. But at least the fruits are now appearing. Cindy Brown and the gardeners are growing a special Asian variety from India named Poona Kheera. It can be harvested small when the skin is white or when allowed to age to an unusual russet brown color.

It's billed as a highly productive variety, but as with all cucumber varieties, the key is to keep picking the fruits before they get too large. Don't let them get longer than eight inches.

As Cindy has at Green Spring, I always grow cucumber vines on a trellis. This keeps the plants healthy, vigorous and freer from pest and disease problems. The biggest menace is the striped or spotted cucumber beetle, which transmits a bacterial wilt disease that appears just as the vines are fruiting. The plant wilts abruptly, and no amount of watering will bring it back. The beetles should be hand-picked or better yet excluded with a floating row cover. Remove the cover once the flowers bloom to allow pollinators to do their work.

I like the straight, smooth-skinned English varieties such as Telegraph Improved and Pepinex. One of the most fun cukes to grow is Lemon. It is yellow-skinned, spherical and even has some citrus in its flavor. It is a late-season variety, so you have to be patient.

The gardeners have coaxed along a good crop of cabbages that sit for most of the spring, seemingly stalled, and then they bulk up in June and start to head. Cindy and the gang are looking to harvest soon a savoy variety, heavily netted against the threat of rabbits and deer. Beets are bulbing nicely, and the bush beans at least, if not the pole varieties, are at last beginning to fruit.

When the peas were pulled about three weeks ago, Sungold cherry tomato transplants were ready to take over the same trellis real estate, and are now woven between the large mesh netting as they have grown. It's a highly effective method of supporting the vines, which are already fruiting.

Late as it is, Cindy has planted some okra transplants, which should produce a crop by early September, and another heat loving veggie, the cow pea.

In the flower-and-edibles border outside the garden fence, Cindy showed me a monster purslane, a variety named Golden Purslane, looking for all the world like the common weed, fleshy and low-growing, but about four times the size of the wild and weedy variety. The succulent leaf has a delicious crispiness in texture and flavor and makes fabulous accents to summer salads.

I'm definitely growing it in my garden next year.

Over to Cindy and her delicious recipe of the week....

Braised Cucumbers With Salmon and Creme Fraiche. (Cynthia A. Brown)

Cindy Brown: Cucumbers are the oldest cultivated vegetable in the world, originating in ancient Persia to use as a water source when traveling.

Today, cukes are used primarily in salads, yet they are delicious when cooked in savory main dishes. If you're old enough to remember when poached salmon covered with thinly sliced cucumber "scales" was a buffet table centerpiece, served with tomato aspic, pumpernickel bread squares, sour cream and lemon wedges, you'll like this dish. It has those flavors.

Braised Cucumbers With Salmon and Creme Fraiche
Makes 6 main-course servings or 12 appetizer servings

Serve on cocktail-size pumpernickel bread, atop egg noodles or as a side dish with grilled meat. Refrigerated leftovers would be great for topping blini at brunch.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, cut into small dice (about 3/4 cup)
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 18 ounces total)
1 medium clove garlic, cut into thin slices
1 medium tomato, chopped (3/4 to 1 cup)
About 3 fronds of dill, finely chopped (1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces creme fraiche
4 ounces Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 ounces smoked farmed salmon, trimmed, cut into small dice (available at Whole Foods Markets)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the oil and onion. Stir to coat; reduce the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes, then add the garlic, cucumbers, tomato, dill, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, then reduce the heat to medium-low.

Add the creme fraiche, yogurt and lemon juice; stir to incorporate.

Add the salmon and stir gently to incorporate, then turn off the heat. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Per serving (based on 6): 158 calories, 6 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 18 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

By Adrian Higgins  |  July 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork , Recipes  | Tags: Adrian Higgins, cucumbers, recipes  
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Here's a summery drink to have before dinner: a cucumber martini.

Peel, chop in large pieces, and puree 4 - 6 medium cucumbers. Reserve a few cucumber slices for garnish. It helps to add a little water to get it going. Strain the pulp. You should get about 2 cups of cucumber juice.

Juice 6 - 8 limes to get 1 cup of fresh lime juice.

Heat 1/2 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar on low heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. This makes ~1 cup of simple syrup. If you want an extra citrus kick, use a peeler to add some of the lime zest while the syrup is heating (if so, let it cook for 5 minutes or so on a low simmer).

Combine simple syrup with the cucumber and lime juices. Mix 2 parts juice mix with 1 part vodka in a shaker and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with fresh, chopped dill and a cucumber slice.

This is also great when combined with sparkling water for cucumber lemonade.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 13, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Did I miss something? When do you add the cucumber? This sounds really good!

Posted by: Agfras | July 13, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Looks like some editing changes didn't get saved. Try it now.

Posted by: The Food Section | July 13, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

This drink sounds very much like a Pim's Cup - very refreshing on a hot day.

Posted by: KathyMJ | July 22, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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