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.

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