A Southerner’s backyard is a treasure trove of edible gems during the long, hot summer months. Standing in the yard, I gaze from left to right, each neighbor has a little garden of some sort, revealing characteristics of its caretaker. Some gardens overflow with herbs and spring onions in simple clay pots, others with emerald green bell pepper plants in perfectly straight rows. The more adventurous gardeners have a few chickens strutting about their yard, feasting away on herbs and fallen vegetables. Then, there are those who create raised vegetable beds out of old barbecue pits and tractor tires.
I remember tending to our own little garden with my mom when I was a little girl. One night, I sat in the dirt next to the cucumber plants as we began snipping away at a few green onions for our dinner. I couldn’t help but stare at the perfectly ripe cucumbers suspended in midair, reminding me of hanging sausages in a great meat market. I peer under one of the jade leaves and spotted a small cucumber with a bright yellow flower attached at one end. A crack of thunder in the distance broke my focus. Tomato plants sway in the breeze and drops of cool summer rain began hitting our cheeks. “Be sure to peek at this one in the morning,” mom said with a knowing smile. Before it began pouring, we rush inside with fists full of green onions and arms crammed with cucumbers. I thought no more of the gherkin-sized cucumber and continued helping to prepare for dinner as it rained sheets and sheets.
The next morning, I walk outside to gather a few tomatoes and herbs for breakfast. Curiosity gets the best of me as I begin folding back the leaf, and lo and behold, the teeny cucumber grew half the length of my forearm overnight. I couldn’t believe it! From that moment on, I thought of cucumbers as being enchanted. They appear mystically in our garden patch after a midsummer storm and disappear just as magically at our table.
Cucumber Ribbon Salad
Note: This is a delicate, quick summer salad, which pays homage to the simple way we prepared cucumbers growing up. There is no need to make this recipe ahead of time, just wait until the last minute to toss the cucumbers in the dressing, or else you will end up with waterlogged cucumbers instead of crunchy, fresh ribbons.
½ medium-sized garlic clove (or 1 small garlic clove)
Pinch red pepper flakes
Small handful mint, leaves only, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized cucumber
Parmesan cheese shavings, for serving
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Finely chop the garlic clove, red pepper flakes and mint leaves together. Place the seasonings in a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the lemon juice. Whisk in olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
With a vegetable peeler or a mandoline, thinly slice the cucumber. Once you get to the seeds, begin cutting the other three sides, so all you are left with is the watery, seedy center.
Discard the seedy center and toss the cucumber ribbons in the dressing. Once all of the ribbons are coated, lay the cucumbers on a serving platter. Scatter with remaining mint leaves, Parmesan shavings and black pepper. Serve immediately.