Cool as a cucumber

Sat, Jul 14, 2012, 01:00

I AM A POOR gardener because I am quite lazy when it comes to manual labour as a hobby. I start off in springtime full of vigour and enthusiasm, but soon the grass has grown so long that only a herd of sheep could make in-roads into the foliage. The raised beds are going mad; I have enough sage to export but I do have lovely lettuce for which I am eternally grateful. And even though it is literally bursting with wildlife, the odd slug is a small price to pay for such glorious leaves – although the children would disagree. I have failed in all my efforts at gardening except for sage and lettuce, but very much embrace the garden life. So here goes.

This cucumber gazpacho is a cool and rich soup, which is best slurped cold from the fridge. It’s a great way to gently crush appetites and good to ladle into glasses, cups or small bowls and served with toasts or an extra drizzle of good olive oil. After all the sieving and straining – don’t let this put you off – I ended up with approximately 1 litre of liquid and I reckon you’d only consume 150 ml of it (which is about a small cup’s worth). Anything more than this and you’ll get a bit fed up with it. It’s nice but in moderate doses, like most cold soups.

The summer salad can be made with cous cous, bulgar wheat or quinoa. I used quinoa here, simply as I prefer it to the other grains. I am sure you could even use wild rice. It’s the dressing here that’s lovely and zingy and do use all of it in this salad. The peaches, herbs and kick of ginger make this a really tasty crowd pleaser. There’s enough here to do four big portions. But if part of a salad line-up, this amount would do eight servings.

When making vinaigrettes that contain Dijon mustard, remember that you can make these dressings emulsify rather than remain separated until shaken or whisked within an inch of their lives. This is because mustard contains a carbohydrate called mucilage which acts as an emulsifier and helps suspend the oil and prevent its separation in salad dressings. If you wanted to further increase the emulsifying properties of dressings — without egg yolks — then crush and mince garlic into a paste with sea salt. If this is added to the Dijon before adding oil, it will also improve your ability to emulsify, because the garlic contains phospholipids which are released when really crushed and made into garlic paste – rather than just sliced and crushed. We just used mustard here and added in some oil very slowly at the start, exactly as though you are making a mayonnaise. Let it take and then add in some of the lime juice, then more oil and continue from there. Your vinaigrettes will be all the more lovely as emulsification ensures evenly distributed flavour, rather than separated dressings, which never taste complete.

Cucumber gazpacho

Serves approx 6-8

2 cucumbers

2 heaped dessertspoons horseradish sauce

600 ml cold vegetable stock

Approx 250 g Greek yoghurt

Salt pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

100 ml olive oil

Big bunch dill

Roughly chop the cucumbers, but leave the skin on. Mix in a blender with the horseradish sauce, veg stock and yoghurt. You may have to do this gradually as my blender nearly died with everything added in all at once. Whizz until super smooth and then strain into a clean bowl. Help this along with a wooden spoon and discard the cucumber mulch. You should have approximately 1 litre of cucumber soup. Put this back into the blender and add the garlic, olive oil and dill, which you could roughly chop before throwing into the blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Make sure it’s robust enough as when it chills down, it will become a little blander. So err on the side of over-seasoning. Chill until ready to serve. Edible flowers (from my exploding and going to seed rocket and mizuna) and olive oil or chive flowers and slices of radish make it look a bit fancier.

Summer salad

Enough for 4 big portions or 8 side portions

400g quinoa/bulgar or cous cous

Big bunch spring onions, finely sliced

Approx 200-300g cooked chicken breast, chopped

Big bunch coriander, roughly chopped

3 peaches, finely diced

1 red onion, finely diced

Dressing

1 heaped dessert spoon Dijon mustard

100 ml olive or rapeseed oil

Juice of 2 limes

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely diced

Salt pepper

Large piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated/minced

Squeeze honey

Cook your grain according to instructions, rinse under cold water and then drain really well until very dry. Do this early on, as if it’s holding water and you haven’t drained it well, it will dilute the flavour. You can do this ahead of time, or even the day before.

Make the dressing. Start with your Dijon in a bowl. Add a few drops of oil, whisking and continue, drop by drop until you feel it start to emulsify. Then a tiny splash of lime juice and then more oil. Play this game of cat and mouse with the oil, adding some more lime juice when you think it’s going to give up and split. Keep going and add in the rest of the ingredients and season well. Add all the salad ingredients to the grain and then add in the dressing and mix well. Season and adjust and serve. This was fine for a day or two in the fridge – but take into consideration when you cooked the chicken.

Domini recommends: Cornish sea salt — try the chilli one with slow-roasted onion and garlic, especially sprinkled on roasted sweet potato wedges. I got a mini selection pack in Roy Fox’s in Donnybrook, Dublin also available online at cornishseasalt.co.uk

Food cooked and styled by Domini Kemp

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