i’ve recently noticed a phenomenon that occurs on summer evenings. as six o’clock rolls around and the sun is still bright and warm, no one wants to leave what they are doing, whether it’s gardening, playing outside, or reading by the pool, to prepare dinner. then at seven o’clock, everyone’s ravenous from a full day outside, and you have to scramble to get dinner ready!
however, last weekend i was experimenting with the food network’s summerfest ingredient, cucumbers, and i discovered a great solution to this problem. the answer is a quick cucumber relish that captures the crisp juiciness of summer cucumbers, adds a hint of spiciness to cut the summer heat, and packs lots of flavor into an easy-to-assemble condiment that can be used on a number of great summer dishes. you can make this relish in the morning, or when you pause for lunch, or even during a late-afternoon break, and it will be ready and waiting by the time dinner rolls around.
quick cucumber relish
makes 3 cups
2 medium cucumbers, cut into medium dice
2 fresh red chili peppers, finely chopped (more seeds = spicier relish)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp whole peppercorns (any color)
4 tbsp basil, cut into chiffonade
1. place all ingredients except the basil in a medium saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. remove from the stove and allow to cool for 1o minutes.
2. once cool, add the basil and pour the mixture into a glass jar. seal the jar tightly and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. relish is ready to use once fully chilled and will keep for one week.
i also had some fresh sardines on hand this weekend, and i felt they would be an excellent base for the relish, so i decided to give them a quick dip in some cornmeal and sear them in a frying pan. then i plated them up with the relish on top. it was a delicious contrast, the cool and crunchy cucumbers providing a perfect foil for the rich and oily fish under their crispy coating. but the relish would also be a great accompaniment to your standard grill items — burgers, hot dogs, and grilled chicken. i could also see it as a flavor accent on top of asian dishes such as fried rice or peanut-sesame noodles. however you choose to enjoy it, i’m sure you won’t be disappointed!
crisp cornmeal sardines
12 fresh sardines, cleaned and left whole
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup cornmeal
3 tsp garlic powder
3 tsp salt
3 tsp ground pepper
1. remove the heads of the sardines with a chef’s knife, then rinse and place them on a paper towel to dry.
2. beat the eggs in a shallow bowl and set aside. in another bowl, mix together the cornmeal, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
4. heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until it begins to ripple. one by one, dip the sardines into the eggs, then into the cornmeal until evenly coated, and place in the frying pan.
6. cook the sardines for about 6 minutes per side, or until golden brown. remove from the pan and place on a plate to strain (do not place on a paper towel or they will loose their crispness). then serve, 3 to a plate, with a healthy spoonful of relish on top.
note: many people find sardines difficult to eat because of the small bones, but the crispy cornmeal coating disguises these bones easily and you can simply swallow them up. however, don’t forget that you should remove the vertebrae; these bones are larger and will not be pleasant to eat. the best way to eat a cooked sardine is to lay it on its side and then, with your fork and knife, gently pull away pieces of the filet facing up. This will leave the vertebrae exposed, and the whole spine can be lifted off the remaining filet with a fork and knife and put aside. then you are free to enjoy the second filet.
if you crave more cucumbers, check out these great blogs:
Pinch My Salt: Chilled Cucumber, Kefir and Avocado Soup
What’s Gaby Cooking: Cucumber-Basil Gimlet
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Radish-Cucumber Crostini
Big Girl Small Kitchen: Spicy Cucumber Salad with Shallot, Ginger and Mint
Grecian Kitchen: Summer Cucumber Salad
And Love It Too: Cucumber, Mint and Watermelon Salad
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Cucumbers Coolers with Agave Simple Syrup
Cooking With My Kid: Cucumber Limeade
FN Dish: Summer Fest: Cucumber Recipes
Healthy Eats: Cool Cucumber Soup
Food for 7 Stages of Life: Cucumber Cherry Salsa
Cooking With Elise: Green Tea Cucumber Pops
Glory Foods: Cucumber and Shrimp Boat
Virtually Vegan Mama: Fire-Roasted Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho
Cooking Channel: Cucumbers Stuffed with Crab-Mango Salad
Recipe Girl: Bread and Butter Pickles
Taste With the Eyes: Spicy Pickled Cucumbers with Wakame and Garlic Blossoms
Virtually Homemade: Cold Thai Cucumber-Mint Soup
Add a Pinch: Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
The Cultural Dish: Ahi Tuna with Cucumber Sauce and Salad
Daily*Dishin: Cool n’ Zesty Cukes: 7 Minute Summer in a Jar
Daydreamer Desserts: Cubanita Margarita
Purple Cook: Cucumber Gazpacho with Indian Flavored Shrimp Relish
Indian Simmer: Cucumber at its Best with Chaat Masala
Big Apple Nosh: Quick and Easy Homemade Pickles
Sweet Life Bake: Agua de Pepino
The Sensitive Epicure: Tzatziki with Grilled Gluten-Free Pitas and Fresh Cucumbers and Peppers
Zaika Zabardast: Cucumber Gazpacho
A Way to Garden: Cucumber-Growing Q&A and the Best Pickles
Cooking with Books: Summer Fest: Cucumbers