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Cucumber – two cool ways.

Posted in Food, and Food & Entertaining

My pall Willie Engelbrecht flying his way up the side of a mountain during the Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon
My pal Willie Engelbrecht flying his way up the side of a mountain during the Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon

Every year I scan the horizon for the Two Oceans Marathon. As it sails into view and sends thousands of runners on a 56km/ 35-mile ultra-scurry around the Cape Peninsula – I know it is bringing new weather with it. The race happens over the Easter weekend, winter starts on Easter Monday.

Cape Town winters can be fierce beasts – weeks of the sweeping, howling rain that comes straight off the sea, bangs into a mountain, is rebuffed, regroups and swats at the peninsula again. It can rain for days, weeks – the clouds completely obscuring the scenery. Land here during one of those storms and you’d swear there were no mountains. Wake the next morning and you’re sure someone moved you overnight. But Cape Town winters can also be gentle – April and May have some of the best days of summer. The ideal time to head down to our beaches – no wind, no traffic and no tourist police: so our dogs can gambol and sniff while we eat non-crunch picnics.

I have no problem with winter – I like four seasons a year. And marking them with the foods they bring is fun. It always amazes me when CT people moan about the weather … they live at the edge of one of the fiercest continents – what do they expect? Besides, all the wine we grow here (most of it out-of-bounds these days because of my middle-aged stomach lining and it’s stupid sensitivities) warms most beautifully into bourguignons and bolognaises.

Lebanese Cucumber
Lebanese Cucumber

But – we’ve got a couple of weeks left with the sun and so I am making hay while it still shines: I’m having a moment with Tzatziki.

It all started while sofapal Tracey was here – she makes an excellent version using garlic and dill. Since then I’ve thrown some together for lunch, made it as a dip to go with drinks and last week I served it with Pork. I feel like pork always begs for something luscious to go with it. Usually an apple sauce (must be tart), mint jelly (sweet and fresh) or a fruit chutney. But it occurred to me that minty/garlicy tzatziki would give it a lovely greek “opa!”

(As an aside: have you heard the Two Pork Chop Theory? This bit of clever thinking was developed back in the 1970s, by Southern Cooking Doyennes – Nathalie Dupree and Shirley Corriher – both as a cooking tool and as a metaphor of how they planned to work together as women in a male dominated industry. The idea is that one pork chop in a pan cooks up dry. But two produce enough fat to feed each other, giving much better cooking results.)

Tzatiki is eminently tailor-able: if you’re not a dill fan, just use parsley or mint bring a bit of pep. There are some truly complex versions out there on the web (Masterchef Australia judge George Calombaris adds honey and cayenne pepper to his), so do whatever works for you. The only constants should be: a good quality full fat yoghurt (fat free/half fat can be used, but you will need to pour off some of the water that seeps from it), soft fruity olive oil, flake salt and fresh, crisp cucumber.

I’m going to use TB’s recipe here with a tweak or two. She paresoff the skin and chops her cucumber, I grate mine … skin on. She uses scant garlic (you don’t want that uncooked bitterness clouding your palate), I’ve used a fair whack of the jumbo version which has no aftertaste and is sweetly pungent. She keeps it simple with Dill, I added parsley because I had a a half bunch in the fridge.

FullSizeRender 5
Tzatziki in the garden

This recipe makes a good amount – enough for a generous serve each at dinner with some spare to spread on chunky bread with a topping of salted, sliced tomato for lunch the next day. That’s the beauty of tzatziki – you can literally eat it with anything simple and savoury.

1 x long crisp Lebanese cucumber – skin on  (English cucumbers are too watery)
2 cups Full fat, thick yoghurt
1 clove jumbo garlic, finely grated or put through a garlic press
big handful of dill, fronds finely chopped
good handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (must be flat leafed, the other stuff is just nasty)
1 lemon, zest finely grated
3-4 glugs olive oil
good few grounds of black pepper

1. Coarsely grate the cucumbers – salt sparingly, put into a sieve and allow to drain for 10 mins.
2. Then take into your hands and squeeze any remaining water out gently .. gently … gently …
3. Set drained cucumber aside.
4. Place ½ cup of yoghurt in a small bowl with the garlic, lemon zest, mint and pepper
5. Add drained cucumber to the yoghurt mixture and stir to combine.
6. Add a squeeze of lemon juice – not too much as you don’t want everything to go runny.
7. Add olive oil glug by glug and stir in gently. You don’t want too much olive oil or the mixture will separate, rather err on the side of caution.
8. Add salt to taste – if it needs it, your earlier salting may be enough.
9. And a few grounds of pepper.
10. Place  tzaziki in the fridge to chill for 15 mins or so before serving

Now – just in case you’re wondering “what should I do with the rest of the cucumber?” I have just the thing …

FullSizeRenderThe Last Days of Summer – Cucumber Mint Martini

200ml/just under a cup of freshly squeezed cucumber juice (leave the skins on to get a gorgeous emerald-green colour)
2 generous shots of your favorite Gin
2 scant shots of dry vermouth
a good handful fresh mint leaves
4 or 5 ice cubes
a cheek of lime
Note: these measurements make 2 martinis

  1. Put two martini glasses into the freezer.
  2. Pour all of the above into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously to bruise the mint leaves and cool the liquids.
  3. When the outside of the cocktail shaker is frosty – then it’s time to pour.
  4. Strain into your icy two martini glasses, squeeze in a drizzle of lime and serve with either a thin slice of cucumber or sprig of mint as garnish.

Drink and do a little Greek dance. Yamas!

(All images copyright Campari&Sofa, food/beverage shots kindly taken by Sofabrother.)

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  1. I love your description of how winter batters the Cape peninsula. I spent three winters in Cape Town during the 80s and it felt exactly like that.

    March 27, 2015

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