Monday, August 2, 2010


We haven't suffered with the blistering heat that has afflicted the eastern states this summer, but July slogs into August this week with a definite dog days' feel, a thick, humid warmth. The tomatoes like it, along with most everything else in the garden. It's not my favorite sort of ambience, but it does provide opportunity to appreciate those simple foods, simple meals of summer--corn on the cob, a platter of sliced tomatoes, rack of pork spareribs smoking away in the grill through the sultry afternoon.

That was our supper last night, that and this cooling salad of cukes, chervil, and garlic chive shoots (the unopened flower stalks, really) in a buttermilk bath. The tangy, translucent buttermilk, blended with a little cider vinegar and sunflower oil, made the cukes seem even cooler.

Chervil--that's the lacy leaf lying atop the cukes above--is one of my favorite herbs, with an anise scent more delicate than that of tarragon or fennel. But if you don't have that you could use a bit of tarragon and some parsley, and if you don't have the garlic chive shoots, regular chives would stand in just fine.

Cucumbers in sour cream with dill, seems to me that's the Midwest-Scandinavian potluck standard, yes? This is an homage to that classic, but lighter, perhaps a bit cooler. The dressing amounts here make for a fairly soupy salad, which I liked. It actually had me thinking of a soup with this basis, a sort of buttermilk gazpacho. With no break in the damplish heat in sight, look for that preparation later this week....

Buttermilk Cukes with Chervil and Garlic Chive Shoots
serves two to four

2 smallish cucumbers with nice thin skins, or a larger English or Asian type
6 Tbsp buttermilk
2 tsp apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp sunflower or vegetable oil
scant 1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp finely chopped garlic chive shoots, just the very tender top few inches
a few sprigs chervil, chopped

Slice the cucumbers very thin, about 1/8-inch. I used my
Benriner mandoline. Mix everything together. Refrigerate and let the flavors meld for an hour or so before serving. It can be made a day ahead, too.

A word about garlic chives and their shoots: If you have garlic chives in your garden, you probably have a lot of them, and if you don't, well, I'm not sure I would recommend that you add them. Unless, that is, you are very conscientious about dead-heading plants with the potential to become invasive. Garlic chives spread both by dividing underground, and by spreading their little black seeds, copiously. They will inhabit any slightest crack, between edging and sidewalk, between boards on a deck where there's a speck of soil--you get the idea. Their dark, flat, blade-like leaves have a nice, pungent, garlic-onion flavor and aroma--a bit like ramps, actually--but the best part of them is the flower stalk before the flower has opened.

By running your hand up the stalk and letting it break off where it wants to, you get just the tender sweet tips, which are delicious chopped into salad dressings or, if you have a quantity, to stir-fry up with some soft-scrambled eggs or a bit of good bacon, speck, or Chinese sausage. When we get into Sichuan mode, right about now, the hottest, humidest part of the summer, those sweet, aromatic shoots become a regular part of dinner.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw