Not that I’m fishing around for invitations, but at times, last night for example, I feel that I can be a welcome asset to a dinner party. Not only did I bring an appetizer to my friend J’s house, I also provided useful dinner conversation. In fact, now all the women at dinner know their stripper names. Yes, stripper names! Here’s how you figure out yours (or your spouse’s/girlfriend’s): your first name is the name of your first dog (or pet) and your surname is the name of the street you grew up on. So, my stripper name is Colette West. My friend R’s name is Pepe Violet and her sister-in-law’s is Snooky Lovella. We also had a Mittens Seventy-Two, but we renamed her Mittens Sixty-Nine. Now if that isn’t going to get people talking at the dinner table, I don’t know what is!
In addition, I also brought a chilled cucumber soup that J served as an appetizer in adorable little soup cups with miniature spoons that she bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond. At first I heard murmurs that the soup might be too fattening for some of the women. But I assured them the Inspired Chef would never do anything to put extra padding on her friends. I had substituted yogurt and buttermilk (only 90 calories per cup!) for the usual heavy cream and sour cream. Plus, it was full of healthy greens, not only cucumber, but also parsley, scallions and dill, brightened up with a touch of lemon.
I wanted to make the soup because I had a huge bumper crop of cucumbers. It was the first year I’d ever grown them, having been content to have basil and cherry tomatoes in pots on my back deck for the past decade or so. But this summer, Bob’s friend A asked him if we wanted any vegetable seedlings. His daughter was moving to Maine in June, and he had too many pots on his deck to take care of. So, I drove over there, picked up half-a-dozen seedlings and transported them to my house. I repotted the plants – 2 cucumbers, 2 hot red cherry peppers, some basil, and what I thought was beefsteak tomato but turned out to be watermelon (Boy, was I surprised!). I placed the giant containers on the stoop outside my laundry room, which is an extremely sunny location.
Within a week, the cucumber plants were shooting up, and by mid-July their big leaves wound around the stakes I had planted in the potting soil. Soon tiny green tendrils latched around the stakes, cementing the plants’ upward trajectory. Within a few weeks, there were a dozen or so tiny yellow flowers, which turned into what looked like the gherkins they serve on the side of your plate when you eat a sandwich at a French-style bistro. By August, the small “gherkins” had miraculously turned into full-size cucumbers. “Just like you see in the grocery store,” I thought to myself, with more than a small amount of pride. Growing cucumbers was much easier than raising children, because all you had to do was water them every day (and they didn’t throw parties in your basement without your permission!).
So, what to do with all these beautiful cucumbers besides have them overtake my refrigerator? First on the list was to make cucumber salad. A no brainer, you slice the cucumbers as thin as possible (a mandolin would have been helpful, but, alas, the Inspired Chef does not own one). Then you add rings of thinly sliced onions, a cup of vinegar, some dill, and a pinch of salt, and you are set.
Making the cucumber soup was a bit more of a challenge. I had to find just the right recipe, which turned out to be a process of elimination. First, I cut out all the recipes that had ingredients I wanted to avoid: heavy cream, whipping cream, sour cream, and definitely cream of mushroom soup! I also wasn’t too keen on potatoes, butter and chicken stock. Finally, I came upon a recipe on Epicurious.com for Chilled Cucumber Soup from May 1998 attributed to Judy Goldwasser. I liked it because it seemed to use the healthiest and lowest calorie ingredients, plus it wasn’t ridiculously hard to make (like the one from Emeril Lagasse that had 24 ingredients!).
I started by peeling the cucumbers, cutting them in half, and scraping out their seeds with a spoon. Then I sprinkled them with some salt. Why do this? Because it makes them excrete water and keeps them crisp! While the cucumbers were “sweating,” I roughly chopped up the scallions, parsley and dill and squeezed my lemon juice.
While the recipe said to put everything in a blender, there was no way it could all fit, so I broke the mixture into two batches. In it went, along with the buttermilk and yogurt, creating a sea of floating green bits whirring around in the blender.
I poured both batches into a large 4-quart pot and stuck in my wooden spoon to garner a taste. It was 95 percent there, but still needed a bit more seasoning, so I added a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. I also thought it wasn’t “bright” enough so I squeezed in a spot more lemon, and, truth be told, added a tablespoon of sugar, only because it seemed to need just a hint of sweetness. All that was left was to throw it in the frig and let it chill for a few hours.
Now ladies (and gentlemen, if you wish), here’s your chance to send in your stripper names. I want them all! Do not email me, but rather click on the “Post a comment button” below and let me hear from you (hint: it may be easiest to post as Anonymous). Make sure to cc Hef as I heard his fiancé left him at the altar and he’s a bit lonely!
1 seedless European cucumber, or 2 American cucumbers
3 tablespoons cider or white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, sliced and broken into rings
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
Thinly slice the cucumber(s) widthwise. Place the vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cucumber, onion, and dill, and toss well. Refrigerate and let the flavors mix for at least one hour.
Chilled Cucumber Soup
Adapted from Judy Goldwasser’s recipe on Epicurious.com
1/2 cup chopped parsley
6 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (add a tablespoon more if desired)
1 quart buttermilk
1 pint yogurt
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon sugar, optional
Peel cucumbers and cut them in half, scraping out seeds. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt and let them stand 30 minutes. Drain excess water.
Chop the cucumbers coarsely and put the pieces in the blender along with scallions, dill, lemon juice, buttermilk, and yogurt. Blend at high speed. Season with salt and pepper to taste (and add additional tablespoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of sugar if desired). Chill well before serving.