Cucumber and quinoa tabbouleh (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Platter_of_home-made_quinoa_tabbouleh_with_cucumber_and_herbs
Gluten-free tabbouleh. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve had a great crop of home-grown cucumbers this year, and have been enjoying them since July. I’ve been growing 2 varieties in the greenhouse, a small green one called Mini Munch, and a pale yellow, more rounded variety, called Crystal Apple. The Mini Munch have almost finished now, but there are still a few more Crystal Apple come.

Home-grown_Mini_Munch_and_Crystal_Apple_Cucumbers
Mini Munch and Crystal Apple cucumbers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

So to celebrate my cucumber-filled summer, this week’s recipe is my very simple, gluten-free version of the classic Middle Eastern salad, tabbouleh, and for good measure, to go with it, my favourite accompaniment, a super-speedy hummus recipe. You can add any combination of soft-leaved herbs to flavour your grains. The herb patch was looking a bit shabby at the weekend and I needed to pick off a few stalks of mint and chives to help rejuvenate the plants again. I also added some of the delicate zig-zag-edged herb salad burnet which has it’s own mild cucumber flavour, but parsley and coriander make good substitutes if you prefer.

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Salad Burnet close-up. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There are no set rules to this recipe. It is very simple. I cheat and use a ready-cooked pack of red and white quinoa grains. Very convenient and a perfect quantity for a couple of hearty portions. If you like, add tomato for extra colour and moisture to the salad, and spring onions will add a tasty, oniony bite. I hope you enjoy the fresh flavours.

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Home-grown cucumber, mint chives and salad burnet. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients

Tabbouleh

  • 250g cucumber, washed
  • 250g cooked quinoa
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 20g chives, chopped
  • 7g mint leaves, chopped
  • A handful of salad burnet leaves (parsley or coriander)
  • Lemon wedges and extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • Male cucumber flowers to garnish

Hummus (serves 3-4)

  • 400g can chickpeas
  • 40g tahini
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Paprika to dust
  1. For the tabbouleh, cut the cucumber into small pieces. Put the quinoa in a bowl and mix in the cucumber, herbs and salt. Cover and chill for an hour to allow the flavours to mingle. Stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

    Cooked_quinoa_alongside_the_other_ingredients_for_tabbouleh_salad
    Making gluten-free tabbouleh. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. For the hummus, open the can of chickpeas and drain the canning liquid into a jug. Pop the chickpeas in a blender or food processor along with the other ingredients and 3 tbsp. of the reserved liquid. Blitz for a few seconds until smooth. I like my hummus to have the consistency of thick porridge, but if you prefer something softer, just add a bit more canning liquid. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Don’t forget to keep the rest of the canning liquid for using as an egg white substitute – it freezes very well.
    Blending_the_ingredients_to_make_hummus
    Making hummus. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Serve the tabbouleh decorated with cucumber flowers; dress with a squeeze of fresh lemon and extra virgin olive oil to taste, and accompany with toasted seeds, home-made hummus (dusted with paprika if liked)  and warm, gluten-free, toasted pitta breads. Perfect 🙂

    Overhead_view_of_home-made_cucumber_and_quinoa_salad
    A fresh and healthy salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Cucumber_and_quinoa_tabbouleh_served_on_warm_gluten-free_pitta_bread_with_hummus
    Ready to eat, quinoa tabbouleh with toasted seeds, home-made hummus and a squeeze of lemon. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Courgette and leek bhajis (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Courgette and leek bhajis with cucumber and coconut raita. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It has reached the time of year that sees the end of my supply of home-grown courgettes. The three plants I sowed from seed have been growing happily, side by side, in a grow-bag, in my greenhouse over the past few weeks. The plants have given me a good, steady and tasty crop of yellow and green globe-shaped fruits. I am sad to see their demise.

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Yellow and green globe courgettes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To use up the last of the crop, this week’s recipe is for a mildly spiced, Indian-style fritter, based on a classic takeaway favourite, the onion bhaji. The flour used is chickpea (or gram/besan) flour which very is earthy and nutty in flavour, and the flavourings used are fragrant rather than over-powering: cumin, fenugreek, black onion seeds and toasted sesame seeds. Add some minced green chilli or chopped fresh coriander for some zesty freshness if you like.

Bag_of_chickpea_flour_and_spices_to_flavour_courgette_bhajis
Gram flour, ground fenugreek, ground cumin and toasted sesame seeds with black onion seeds. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Serve the bhajis as a starter with wedges of lemon to squeeze over, some fresh coriander, and a traditional cucumber and yogurt salad.

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Bhajis sprinkled with fresh coriander and accompanied with lemon wedges and a coconut yogurt and cucumber salad.

Makes: 15

Ingredients

  • 190g chickpea (gram or besan) flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 200g courgette, trimmed and coarsely grated
  • 1 small leek, trimmed and shredded
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek
  • 1½ tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp black onion seeds
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • Sunflower oil for deep-frying
  • Fresh coriander and lemon to serve

For the cucumber salad

  • 150g cucumber, trimmed and chopped
  • Small bunch fresh chives, chopped
  • A few sprigs fresh mint, leaves chopped
  • 100g free-from coconut yogurt
  • Salt to taste
  1. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the courgette, leek, spices and seeds. Mix well. Put to one side. Heat the oil for deep-frying to 180°C, then mix 75ml cold water into the spiced vegetables to make a thick batter. Add the water just before cooking to make sure it stays thick.

    Steps_to_making_courgette_and_leek_bhaji_batter
    Preparing the bhaji batter. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Use 2 dessert spoons to form scoops of batter and gently drop into the oil – cook 7-8 scoops at a time for 7-8 minutes, turning in the oil, until golden and crisp. Don’t make the bhajis too big otherwise they won’t cook all the way through. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm while you prepare the other remaining batter.

    Courgette_and_leek_bhajis_being_deep_fried
    Courgette and leek bhajis in the fryer. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. For the cucumber salad, mix all the ingredients together and season to taste.
  4. Serve the bhajis while they are warm, sprinkled with fresh coriander and accompanied with lemon wedges and the cucumber salad.

    Freshly_cooked_home-made_courgette_and_leek_bhajis
    Ready to serve, freshly cooked courgette bhaji. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Lemon-soaked cucumber cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan option)

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Lemon-soaked cucumber cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

This week has seen the end of my home-grown cucumber supply. I picked the last one yesterday. The greenhouse is beginning to look a wee bit shabby and tired. I have only the tomato plants bearing fruit and still standing proud alongside the withered vines of the once productive cucumber plants.

I love experimenting with vegetables in baking. Carrots and courgettes get a lot of coverage in cake making, as do beetroot and sweet potato, but the humble cucumber doesn’t get much of a look in, until now.

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Fresh cucumber. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The delicate, refreshing flavour of is just about detectable in the finished bake, and the texture of the cooked skin gives a little bite to the mix, but above all else, cucumber as a cake ingredient, gives a lovely moist consistency to the cake.

There aren’t many flowers left on cucumber plants at this time of year, but in the height of the season, you can pick off a few male flowers (the ones without the fairy-sized fruit attached) and add the to salads or a mild cucumber flavour. They make pretty edible decorations, and look good floating in a glass of Pimms of a gin and tonic. Don’t pick off too many otherwise you won’t get any more cucumbers.

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Male and female cucumber flowers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s my recipe for a lemon and cucumber cake. Let me know what you think.

Serves: 10

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten, or 100g silken tofu, mashed
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 225g gluten-free plain flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 2 level teasp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 8g arrowroot
  • 115g grated cucumber
  • Cucumber flowers to decorate, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin. Using a vegetable peeler, pare away 2 strips of lemon rind, and put to one side. Finely grate the remaining lemon rind and extract the juice.
  2. Put 150g sugar in a bowl and whisk in the eggs or tofu and sunflower oil until well blended. Sift the flour, baking powder and arrowroot on top, and gently mix all the ingredients together until combined. Stir in the cucumber and lemon rind.
  3. Pour into the tin and bake for about 55 minutes until risen, golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  4. While the cake is cooking, prepare the lemon glaze. Very thinly slice the reserved strips of lemon rind and place in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and leave to soften for a couple of minutes. Drain. Mix the remaining sugar with the lemon juice and stir in the blanched lemon rind to make a sugary glaze.
  5. As soon as the cake is cooked, skewer the cake all over, and spoon the lemon glaze all over the top of the cake. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin. Then remove, wrap and store for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop.
    Cucumber_and_lemon_cake_preparation
    Preparing the cake mix. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
    Pared_lemon_rind_and_lemon_and_sugar_glaze
    Preparing the lemon glaze. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    The next day, your delicious cake is ready to serve. Decorate with cucumber flowers if you have them, then simply slice, sit back and enjoy! Until next week, I’m off to the greenhouse for a tidy up…….

    Close-up_on_slice_of_lemon_soaked_cucumber_cake
    Sliced and ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Cucumber conundrums and recipe ideas

 

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Freshly picked cucumbers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I think it’s safe to say that growing cucumbers is one of my fortes. Every year I raise a bumper crop from seed, without really trying very hard. As with any watery vegetable (or fruit) that doesn’t freeze well, you have to get creative in order to make the most from your harvest when it’s fresh. Over the years, I have accumulated a few recipe ideas which I am happy to share with you and anyone else in a similar “glut” situation.

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Home-grown grow-bag cucumbers in my unheated greenhouse. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Originally, the cucumber was a wild plant with origins in India. Now it is cultivated and grown the world over, and  few salads are complete without it. If left to their own devices, cucumbers will grow to enormous proportions. Just a couple of weeks ago, I discovered one hiding at the back of a plant, behind a very large leaf; it looked more like a marrow than a cucumber, and I have no idea how the plant was supporting it! In general, the bigger they grow, the less flavour they have. As with all watery produce, cucumbers are best cut and used immediately. For slightly longer storage, wipe them dry and then wrap individually and tightly in cling-film, and this way they will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days without losing texture.

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Cucumber preparation. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To eat raw, all you need to do is rinse, dry, and then trim away either end, and that’s it, you’re ready to slice, dice or grate. Peeling is unnecessary unless the skin is tough – some varieties have rough, knobbly skins (ridged varieties) which can get tough on larger fruit – you can just whip off the skin with a vegtable peeler. If the seeds are a problem, cut the cucumber in half and scoop out the centre using a teaspoon before slicing.

For cooking, the skin can become bitter. You can temper it by blanching the cucumber in boiling water for a few seconds, or simply peel the cucumber before cooking.  Prepared chunks of cucumber will cook in lightly salted water for 2-3 minutes, or steam in 5 minutes, depending on thickness. Strips or ribbons of cucumber (pared using a vegetable peeler), make a delicious and healthy bed or wrapping when steaming fish.

Because cucumber has such a delicate, mild flavour, it can easily be overpowered by strong flavours. Some of the soft-leaved fresh herbs go very well with the crisp texture and fresh flavour of cucumber. As well as the herbs below, dill and fennel also make tasty choices. The herb salad burnet (below) does have a mild cucumber flavour and is the ideal herb for flavour enhancement.

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Cucumber-loving herbs: tarragon, salad burnet, chives flowers and stems, parsley, and mint. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Cucumber recipe suggestions

  • Peel and chop cucumber, then blitz in a blender with chopped green melon or kiwi fruit, yogurt, mint and a little unsweetened apple juice. Pour over ice and enjoy as a cooling smoothie.
  • Add a few slices of cucumber to a glass of iced water or a spritzer for a refreshing taste. A few slices also make a good addition to a gin and tonic!
  • Finely dice peeled cucumber and simmer gently in a little stock and white wine. Stir in cream and chopped tarragon to finish. Makes a great sauce to serve with fish, chicken or over roasted vegetables or pasta.
  • Bake peeled cucumber in thick slices in a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil (or dotted with butter). Season lightly and add some fresh dill or fennel. Cover with foil and bake at 190°C (170°C fan oven, gas mark 5) for 25-30 minutes.
  • Add slices or small chunks to a prawn stir fry for the last minute of cooking.
  • Grate fresh cucumber and mix with a little grated root ginger. Sprinkle with rice vinegar, a little sugar and light soy sauce. A tasty, instant relish to accompany sushi.
  • Replace grated courgette in a cake, bread or muffin recipe with grated cucumber, just reduce the quantity by a quarter as cucumber is much more watery. I have  a cucumber-enriched cake recipe to share in a later post – Lemon-soaked cucumber cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan option).
  • For a tangy salad to accompany smoked or barbecued food, try this recipe for gremolata-style cucumber salad: mix 150g finely chopped cucumber with a little crushed garlic. Stir in 40g chopped pickled cucumber or gherkins, 25g pickled capers, 40g chopped, pitted green olives along with 2 tbsp. each freshly chopped parsley and chives. Mix in a little white balsamic vinegar and serve. Delicious as a sandwich filler too!
    Cucumber_gremolata_salad
    Cucumber gremolata salad served sprinkled with chive flowers and leaves of salad burnet. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    To make your own cucumber pickle, see my post from last year In a bit of a pickle

August in a Scottish garden

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August flower border with Ox-eye daisies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Since the end of last month, it has felt like summer has left us here in central Scotland. There have even been a couple of chilly nights when it’s felt like Autumn is on the way. Whilst there has been some warm sunshine, the blue sky days have been peppered with heavy rain showers, and the poor plants, flowers and shrubs have been taking a battering.

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Soft pink Astilbe. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

This baby pink-coloured Astilbe reminds me of candy-floss. The tiny, soft flowers bunch together to give a fluffy-looking display which seems to bounce back even after the heaviest of showers. Just as pink and delicate-looking (and able to withstand the rain!) are the Japanese anemones which grow in a cluster at the base of one of the trees in the back garden. I also have a white variety but this year, the pinks are well ahead of the whites.

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Pale pink Japanese anemones. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

On the opposite flowerbed to the anemones is where the wispy Scabious grow. I tie the wiry floral stems in loose bunches, supported with canes, to keep them from falling over and splaying all over the place. The blooms form small white globes, tinged with pale blue-lilac petals; they are so pretty, and the bees love them!

Scabious
Wispy Scabious blooms. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There are lots of flamboyant red and mauve poppies growing alongside the fruit bushes at the moment, but sadly, each one is only surviving no longer than a single day. These beauties are just too fragile to withstand the heavy rain drops. I managed to enjoy this one for a few hours this week, but sadly the next morning, all the petals had fallen.

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Rain splattered mauve poppy. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m glad of some longer lasting colour in the garden from my ever-faithful Hydrangeas. All the bushes are in flower now and they will continue to bloom for several weeks, subtly changing colour as time goes on. At the moment, the colours are soft and muted, but as Autumn draws nearer, the petals will deepen in colour and become more intense.

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Fresh in bloom, assorted Hydrangeas. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To finish my garden round-up for this month, the greenhouse is pretty colourful at the moment as well. I’ve been picking cucumbers and tomatoes for a few days now, and it looks like I am going to have plenty of produce for the weeks to come. So, until next month, I bid you: happy gardening!

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In the greenhouse, cucumber and Tigerella tomatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

In a bit of a pickle

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Homegrown cucumbers. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

For several years now, I have been a successful cucumber grower. So much so, that even though I reduce the amount of plants I raise each year, I always end up with a glut. Whilst I enjoy eating cucumber raw in salads, and they are very good lightly cooked in a stir fry, I have been at a loss as to what else to do with them.

Whilst leafing through an old cookery book for inspiration, I came across an intriguing recipe called Bread and Butter pickle. The name drew me in, and to my delight, it is a real gem. It is one of the best pickles I have ever made, and so easy to make. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Makes 5 x 325ml jars

  • 1kg prepared cucumbers, chopped into 1.5cm pieces
  • 250g prepared red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp sea salt
  • 550ml white wine vinegar
  • 175g granulated sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp each of mustard seeds, coriander seeds and cumin seeds, coarsely ground
  1. Mix the cucumber, red onion and salt together in a large, clean, china or glass bowl. Leave to stand at room temperature, lightly covered, for 1 hour.
  2. Drain the vegetables in a fine-holed colander or strainer. Rinse very well in cold running water, then dry very well on absorbent kitchen paper. Pack into 5 x 325ml sterilised jam jars.

    Preparation_of _vegetables_for_cucumber_pickle
    Preparation of vegetables for Bread and Butter Pickle. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Put the vinegar in a saucepan and add the remaining ingredients. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
  4. Pour the hot vinegar over the vegetables, making sure they are completely covered. Seal tightly with non corrosive, screw-top lids. Leave to cool, then label, and store in a cool, dry place for at least 3 months before opening. Delicious served with smoked fish or cold cuts. I spoon the pickle over chilli beef tacos – delicious!

    Homegrown_cucumber_pickle
    Homemade cucumber pickle. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

End of July harvest

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Home-grown rhubarb, tomatoes, runner beans, cucumber, raspberries, Morello cherries, yellow courgettes and red gooseberries, all harvested in the past fortnight.

Time for a recap on what’s been happening in my fruit and veg garden. It’s been a mixed bag of weather this month, although it doesn’t seem to have affected anything I’ve been growing for the kitchen. In fact, even though the sun hasn’t been shining as often as I’d have liked, I have never had tomatoes ripen so early in the year – it’s usually September before I get my first taste!

Home-grown tomatoes, above all else, are the best produce to grow for flavour and sweetness, and remain unrivalled by any tomatoes you can buy. I grow them in my unheated greenhouse, planted in grow-bags. I never put the picked fruit in the fridge, I store them in a cool part of the kitchen and eat them as soon as possible after picking. Served simply with some fresh pot basil, a little salt and pepper, and drizzle of balsamic vinegar, this is one of my greatest foodie pleasures.

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My first harvest of Gardener’s Delight tomatoes with fresh pot basil leaves. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

I have been picking runner beans for a couple of weeks now and, with lots of flowers still blooming, I hope to be enjoying them for a few weeks longer. I don’t usually do much with them, other than chop them up, cook them lightly, and enjoy them as a vegetable in their own right. Occasionally, I make a frittata with any leftover cooked veg and combine runner beans with cooked potato, onion – sometimes a little bacon if I have any – some seasoning and chopped fresh thyme. Delicious served warm or cold with salad.

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Runner bean and potato frittata (gluten free). Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Most of the fruit I grow gets made into jams and jellies, or I freeze it for cooking later in the year. The cherries were made into a compote – I didn’t have enough for jam this year. Rhubarb is cooked in muffins, stewed as a simple dessert, or cooked as pie filling. I have just made rhubarb and custard ice lollies for the first time, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out.

The yellow courgette plants are growing like triffids in the greenhouse. Thank goodness I only planted 2! They are both producing heavily, so it looks like I will have to get creative with my courgette cookery. I prefer the yellow variety as I find the flesh firmer and there is slightly more of an earthy flavour to them. I also love the colour. I have been chopping them and simply frying them in butter with smoked bacon and black pepper, and then stirring in a little bit of maple syrup before serving. Very tasty with just about anything.

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Pan-cooked yellow courgette with bacon and maple syrup (gluten and dairy free). Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins