Cucumber Confessional

I love cucumbers. Full stop. People profess their love to many types of foods, saying they could eat them everyday and never get bored. I actually do; everyday, I’ll eat at least one whole cucumber, sprinkled with just salt and pepper, or dipped in hummus, or chopped up in salad. Tiny Persian cucumbers, large English cucumbers, plain pickling cucumbers- I love them all.

Why hasn’t this obvious obsession factored more clearly into my writing or recipes? It’s not interesting, quite frankly. I’m not doing anything exciting with them, just eating them in mass quantities. Even this idea that I’m here sharing today is far from earth-shaking. Barely the tiniest twist on a time-honored classic, surely it’s been done before. However, it’s good enough that it bears repeating: Make shirazi salad while summer produce is at its peak, but replace the tomatoes with watermelon.

That’s it, that’s the whole recipe. Adding a whole recipe card with formal measurements is really overkill when so much of the dish is based on the produce itself and personal taste. If I can be honest and break down that fourth wall for a minute, the recipe card is for Google. For you, I trust you can figure it out.

Consider the chopping an opportunity to practice your knife skills, to meditate, or simply revel in the aroma of summer. The minute you slice into a cucumber or watermelon, that aroma floods the air, setting the mood like candles for a romantic evening, only with notes of whimsy, sunshine, and a cooling breeze.

To anyone complaining about the amount of liquid leftover at the bottom of the bowl: Congratulations! You completely missed the point. That heavenly elixir, my friend, is a beautiful meeting of the worlds, the best parts of fruits and vegetables, sweet and savory, existing in harmony as one. Don’t you dare dump it out. When you pick up the mostly empty bowl, the only option is to bring it to your lips and drink every last drop.

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Good to Grow

Like painting or or singing, some people have an innate gift for gardening. Call it a natural talent that’s given at birth, I’ve seen sickly plants flourish under the right care. It seems even more magical to me, as someone who’s liable to turn that scenario on its head and drive supposedly indestructible vegetation right back into the ground. Described more favorably, you could say that I’m excellent at making compost.

This is the year that I’m changing all that. It’s no secret that I haven’t had the greatest luck with plants, laying to waste everything from succulents to bamboo, but that’s all in the past. Now, with a bit more experience and the right tools, I’m already the proud plant mama of some lush fresh herbs, thriving tomato vines, and even a few flowering pepper buds, ready to burst forth with fruit any day.

How is this possible, you may ask? As with most things in life, it comes down to dumb luck, hard work, and a few simple tricks.

Location, location, location! Make sure you start growing in a space that gets at least 8 hours of direct sun everyday to best suit most plants. You don’t need a ton of acreage or even a yard to start growing; any outdoor space can become a flourishing garden. Apartment dwellers would be wise to invest in a vertical planter to maximize limited balcony space. Lacking that, a window box planter can go anywhere, indoors or out.

Make it rain. Water religiously, even if mother nature does help out with a few showers. Make a habit of checking the soil everyday; if it seems dry, add more water. No need to go crazy, and you might not need to water everyday, depending on your climate. Set yourself a regular calendar reminder if you’re liable to get swept up in the daily madness and forget. Gardening apps like Planta and Flourish are brilliant for this and so much more, specific to your particular plants.

Feed me, Seymour. Like a pet, plants need good food to grow, too! About a month after the first sprouts emerge, add plant food to the soil. You can easily and cheaply make your own from Epsom salts and baking soda, an reapply roughly once a month. Just a little bit will do! Alternately, consider adding ground kelp or seaweed into the soil, which is a rich source of trace elements such as iron, zinc, barium, calcium, sulphur, and magnesium.

Don’t be a pest. Pull out weeds and other odd interlopers, of course, but don’t get sentimental over your own dying sprouts, either. If any of your plants are on their way out, remove them before they have time to rot, attract bugs, and potentially spread disease. If you suspect an infestation, don’t panic, and don’t pull out the toxic chemicals. Depending on the pests, there are many natural remedies you can make from household ingredients.

Slow and steady wins the race. Be patient, don’t overdo it, and celebrate the small victories. Especially if you’re starting from seed, it will be a while before you can reap the fruits of your labor, so buckle in and get comfortable for the long haul. Personally, the actual fruits and vegetables are a bonus at this point; just seeing greens living and thriving under my care, growing bigger and stronger by the day, is something to celebrate already.

Worst comes to worst, if your best efforts still end in barren earth, you’ll still end up ahead of the game. You’ve just enriched your soil for even better growing conditions next year! Your future plant babies will thank you for it.

Of Cabbages and Kings

How many people are genuinely excited to find cabbage on a menu? Not stuffed cabbage rolls or cabbage with corned beef, but just cabbage, dense green leaves alone, sans modifiers. In the US, I’d wager that number would fall somewhere in the lowest possible percentile rank, but that’s only because of inexperience taming the brassica. Take a trip out to Taiwan though, and you’d see very different polling results. Elevating a more diverse range of lesser loved greens as some might honor fine cuts of meat, the dining scene treats vegetables with much greater respect simply by default. Every crop is treasured, allowed to shine in their own rights, and that’s where I first truly discovered my affinity for the humble cabbage.

Stir-fried on the hot teppanyaki grill that stretches in a horseshoe around mad scrambling chefs in the center, huge piles of shredded greenery wilt down into compact piles instantly. Intense heat sears the bottom, locking in a light touch of char, smoky and dark, while the upper leaves steam into meltingly soft submission. With a front seat to the full show, I watched rapt, the drama unfolding hot and heavy before my eyes. In a sudden plot twist, no more than five minutes after placing the initial order, the hot foil in front of me was filled with steaming strands of silky greenery, theoretically keeping warm for prolonged enjoyment but devoured just as quickly as it had been completed.

How could plain, ugly old cabbage taste so good? It was almost infuriating how delicious this completely ungarnished dish was. There were no tricks, not even MSG to bolster it, and yet I had never experienced anything like it before.

Everything comes down to ingredients, of course. Since there are so few of them, every last addition makes a huge impact, right down to the quality of the beans going into the soy sauce. Most essential is selecting Taiwanese cabbage, which is different from more common savoy, white, red, or standard North American green. Flat, smooth, and the size of a small kitchen appliance, it’s not uncommon for them to weigh in at 6 pounds a head or more. Much sweeter and more crisp than most drab coleslaw fodder, it has the integrity to speak for itself in such a bold feature. Head to your local international market and ask for Li-Sun cabbage or Li-Sun Sweet cabbage if you’re struggling to pin one down.

From there, season with a deft hand. Remember that everything else is used to amplify the greenery here, not cover it up. It’s hard to explain the incredible depth of this dish without actually placing a few sizzling strands of it directly into your mouth, but I’ll resist. For that first, doubtful attempt, it takes a bit of blind trust, but you’ll understand that magnetic attraction once that alchemical transformation happens right before your plate.

Yield: 4 - 6 Servings

Stir-Fried Taiwanese Cabbage

Stir-Fried Taiwanese Cabbage

Cabbage like you've never tasted before. Tender, rich, and almost buttery, this fast stir-fry will change the way you think about the humble green leaves.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon Avocado or Peanut Oil
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Pound Taiwanese Cabbage, Sliced into 1/2-Inch Wide Ribbons
  • 1 Tablespoon Light Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Shaoxing Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook for a few seconds until aromatic and lightly browned. Stir in the cabbage until all the pieces are thoroughly coated in oil before covering the pan. Let cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute.
  2. Sprinkle in the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes (if using) and salt all at once, increasing the heat to high, and cook until the cabbage is tender; 2 - 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 50Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 276mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 1g