Monday, June 28, 2010

Cool As A Cucumber

Summer in the city can be hellish, both above ground and below, where the heat thickens and concentrates, creating a seemingly invisible barrier between people and oxygen. My calendar tells me that summer officially started this week but my sweat glands and frizzy ends tell me that we began our decent into outdoor hell several weeks ago. This is about the time when I become kitchen lazy, a term that doesn't mean I've lost interest in cooking, but rather that I've developed a strong aversion to my stove, stove top and pans. I long for lighter, cooler, faster dinners that allow me to bask in the freon glow of artificially cooled air and lazy nights in front of the television. The variety of great summer ingredients popping up each week at the farmers market makes it increasingly easy to prepare a heatless meal, which with a little creativity can mean much more than just a salad or a sandwich (although those are good, too).

My latest Urban Organic box dealt me three large cucumbers, an ingredient I don't happen to love on its own but enjoy eating with other things. I considered some of the obvious options–among them a cucumber raita to use with leftover chicken, a tea sandwich with homemade aioli, and a refreshing quick pickle salad—all great no-cook dishes that sounded delicious. But a sweaty, foggy, musty commute left me thirsty and craving relief. Cold soups had recently started popping up on menus across the city, so I figured I should apply the same timeline to my kitchen. A cool cucumber soup it would be, and mine would have an herby, spicy twist with the addition of basil, dill, mint and jalapeño. A little sour cream would go in for body and some lime juice for an extra refreshing kick. Scallions, salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of water rounded out the ingredients and made for the perfect light summer dinner.

Bread with a schmeer of smoked farmer's cheese was served alongside the soup for a little added heft, but any type of sliced meat, especially a nice slice of prosciutto or serrano for some saltiness will do. You can always top it with croutons or a dollop of something creamy, whether it's cheese, yogurt or sour cream. A snip of chive, your favorite herb or anything dark green would make a nice garnish as well. Try it out on a blazing hot day when your kitchen suddenly becomes the enemy or when all the pots and pans are dirty. A blender and bowls are all that's required, or simply drink it straight out of a glass or shooter. The ingredients are cheap and open to interpretation, so give it a try and make it your own. I promise at the very least it'll cool you down and perk up your spirits on a blazing hot day.

Spicy Chilled Cucumber Soup

3/4 cup sour cream

3 scallions, roughly chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and roughly chopped

1 tsp fresh chopped dill
4 mint leaves, roughly chopped
4 basil leaves, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lime
2 pounds cucumbers (about 4)—peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped

black pepper
1/2 cup water, reserved

Using a blender, process all of the ingredients except the water until well combined. If the soup is too thick, add water 1/4 cup at a time until thinned out. Pass soup through a sieve (this is optional but makes it much silkier) and chill until cold. Serve with bread and cheese or topped with sour cream. Enjoy!


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