Cool as a Cucumber

The sun is shining, the days are long, the students of Columbia have taken up permanent residence on Low steps. I’ve already had my first sunburn of the season. Summer is nearly upon us, and with it, cucumber season!

Fresh cucumbers are one of life’s greatest joys. The satisfying crunch, the sweet, juicy insides! Sliced and diced into quick salads and crudités, cucumbers are the quintessential summer vegetable. However, for a little variety, to keep myself eating cucumbers all season, I like to have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here are two delicious ways to serve cucumbers.

For those larger cucumbers you might find at the farmer’s market, these light and satisfying hors d’oeuvres, adapted from the kitchn, are a must-try. To make them, peel a cucumber and slice crosswise in 1.5 – 2 inch slices. Scoop out the centers, a melon baller works great, but a shallow ice cream scoop or paring knife will do the trick. Be very careful not to dig to deeply; the seedy inside is soft and easily ruptured, and the last think you want is disappearing noodles! Set the cucumber cups aside.

Now, you could put just about anything in these. Fill them with a tzatziki or sweet chili sauce, and make them the centerpiece of a crudité or satay platter. Alternatively, serve any chilled summer soup in these edible soup shooters.

I gave the soba noodles a try, with excellent results. Cook the soba noodles and let them cool completely. Mix two parts rice vinegar or mirin with one part of each soy sauce and sesame oil. I also whisked in finely minced fresh ginger with the finely sliced scallions. Toss the noodles with the ginger mixture, and just before serving, gently spiral a few noodles at a time into the center of the prepared cucumber cups. Garnish with extra scallion.

Fresh cucumbers also make fantastic smoothies. Here, I’ve blended chilled cucumber with fresh mint, lime juice, greek yogurt, ice, and simple syrup. To make a simple syrup, simply heat one part water with two parts sugar in a saucepan over low to medium heat, until just dissolved. Make a batch ahead of time, and use it in iced coffee or impromptu cocktails. Serve the smoothies in a wide glass and garnish with fresh mint. Enjoy!

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Taste of Mendoza: Sweet Nostalgia

The Havanna Alfajor: A Chocolate-Covered Cookie and Dulce de Leche Sandwich

My Spanish teacher Ángel is the most entertaining teacher I have abroad. He always comes to class wearing one of his many Yves Saint Laurent sweaters with appropriately paired slacks and leather loafers. Most of the class time is spent talking about what we did over the weekend or what we have planned for the one coming up, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, he has us sing Shakira. More often than not, he finds himself on a tangent talking about Argentine politics or some amazing food we must absolutely try before going back home, so to tell you the truth, we spend very little time doing actual class work.

The famed Havannets (i.e. Pure Dulce de Leche)

I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how many times he’s mentioned it, but we’ve spent a significant portion of class talking about the havannets from the Havanna coffee shop downtown: a rich and sweet cone-shaped dessert covered in chocolate and filled with a shortbread-esque cookie and the ultra popular milk-jam called dulce de leche. When I finally went to try it upon Ángel’s persistent recommendation, I realized that they are actually his elegant excuse to feast on a bunch of dulce de leche. Since they mostly consist of the rich, caramel-tasting filling, dessert doesn’t get much better than this indulgence for someone with a sweet tooth.

I’ve since taken a rather dangerous liking for the more popular and quintessentially Argentine alfajor, which has the same components as the havannets but with a far less scandalous proportion of dulce de leche to cookie: they are basically a chocolate-covered sandwich made with the same cookie and dulce de leche as the havannets. Countless variations are possible by altering the fillings (coffee, walnut, jam, etc.), cookie types, and exterior coating (white or dark chocolate, meringue, etc.). While the Havanna alfajores are sold exclusively in that café, there are many other brands that sell similar versions. So while they might not always be as good as the original, the temptation at kiosks and grocery check out lines is sometimes too much to master…

Alfajores are the most wonderful snack, and just thinking of the fact that my time to enjoy them is limited to the remaining length of my stay in Mendoza makes me nostalgic for the study abroad experience I still haven’t left from. The immigration office better not have a problem accepting them into the States, because I am so packing a half-dozen boxes to extend the wonder of the Havanna alfajor into my life back home (and of course to share them with friends and family, don’t worry).