from one generation to the next
I’ve been involved in a Book Club for most of my adult life. At first it was just about friends, and if we talked about the month’s designated book then it was a red letter day, but as the years progressed and locations changed, book club turned into a genuine intellectual challenge, the motivation to think analytically, questioningly and more deeply than everyday life, in general, demanded. The friendship of my book club mates I counted as a first class bonus.
I’m not the sort of person who accepts things at face value. I don’t get sucked in by the razzle dazzle of advertising and commercial hype and I’m deeply cynical about politicians and the media. I expect an “expert” to be a voice of wisdom with a sound knowledge based on experience. This belief also influences the way I view recipe books.
I’m forthright in my opinions about recipes and cookbooks on this blog. I try to be constructive in my criticism but I also endeavour to right the wrongs I encounter and make dodgy recipes workable and enjoyable to eat. Sometimes I just scrap a test recipe out of hand, but that’s rare.
As a counterbalance I also believe in giving praise where I see it’s due and recent recipes I’ve tried from “Vegies” by Simon Bryant have made me sit up and look more closely. The recipes I’ve cooked from Byrant’s book have been simple to follow and the flavours robust, distinctive and delicious. “Vegies” has been on my bookshelf for close to three years, but for an unknown reason I’ve been slow to embrace it. Bryant, best known as the chef partner to Maggie Beer’s cook in the popular Australian TV series “The Cook and the Chef,” is a vegetarian. His early life at the stoves was spent in Indian and Thai restaurants before he worked his way through the kitchens of the Adelaide Hilton Hotel to work beside the legendary Cheong Liew, so the influences of SE Asia on his food are strong.
Some of the recipes in the book are “cheffy” and I count his chilled Cucumber Soup, flavoured with gin or Pimms and served with lemony avocado, luscious oily tomato and mint as from that list. But it’s not a laborious recipe with tricky equipment and hard to get ingredients, just pure carefully seasoned cucumber juice elegantly served with perfectly chosen complimentary flavours. I chose to season with Pimms rather than gin.
I made the recipe verbatim. The instruction were clear and concise with chatty asides and explanations. Each element of the dish could be prepared well ahead and I think it would be a light, elegant and cooling beginning to an Australian Christmas meal.
The recipe makes 1 litre of soup which would serve 6-8 as a light appetiser, or 4 people for lunch.
Cucumber and Gin Soup with Tomato and Avocado
2-3 large telegraph cucumbers total weight approx 1.2kg
30-40 mls gin or Pimms
sea salt and pepper
1 avocado at room temperature
zest of 1/4 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large sweet ripe tomatoes at room temperature
extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil for garnish
Blanch the whole cucumbers for 2 minutes in rapidly boiling salted water. If you don’t have a saucepan big enough for your cucumbers, cut them in half.
Refresh the cucumbers in iced water, then drain.
Use a citrus zester to take long julienne of skin off 1/2 cucumber to use as garnish. Set aside in the fridge.
Roughly chop the cucumbers then whizz them in a blender until super smooth.
Strain the cucumber puree through a muslin lined sieve, squeezing the pulp to extract every drop of liquid. You should have approximately 1 litre of cucumber “juice.”
Discard the solids and chill the juice.
Half an hour before serving, remove the cucumber juice from the fridge and add the gin or Pimms a little at a time until you taste a hint of fruitiness.
Season really well with salt to taste. Return the soup to the fridge.
Roughly mash the avocado flesh in a bowl, add the lemon juice and zest, then season with little salt.
Cut the tomatoes into random sized wedges, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle over 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Arrange the avocado and tomatoes into shallow serving bowls. Garnish with the ribbons of cucumber skin, and fresh mint leaves.
Ladle the soup into the bowls, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper.