Cucumber-Avocado Soup

Several events converged in the making of cucumber-avocado soup yesterday.

 A reminder that The Newlyfeds is about the stories and food, not the photos

The first was last month’s family trip to Kiawah Island, South Carolina, where we made our annual pilgrimage to Hege’s. Hege’s is a “brasserie Francais classique” focusing primarily on seafood. (Fred, of course, ordered steak.) On this trip, they offered a cucumber-avocado soup as a special. It was so good that even my seven-year-old niece loved it. The color was the perfect green for this kind of soup but it’s hard to describe exactly what it was–the only thing that comes to mind is a very unappetizing comparison to a 1970s appliance, only about six shades lighter. Or maybe the minty color of a bedspread you’d get at Pottery Barn.

Color aside, the soup somehow managed to taste like neither cucumber nor avocado, but a summer evening, with a dash of cream and chives. (The server claims there was no cream in the dish, but I am sure he lied–see below). I was determined to try this at home.

The second event was the avalanche of produce that is coming out of the nascent community garden at our church, St. John’s Presbyterian.

You can see the cucumber plants in the fourth box from the front. There are a lot of cucumbers buried in those plants–so many that our small congregation can’t quite manage all of them. And there’s parsley, enough to supply the entire city of Durham for the remainder of 2010. 

Here, of course, was my opportunity to re-create that spectacular cucumber-avocado soup, only this time with parsley in place of the chives. I was a bit reluctant to replace those chives, since they complemented the other flavors of the soup so well. But I hated to see that parsley go to waste, and there’s only so much tabbouleh that one person can eat.

The parsley was a stroke of genius. As a garnish, it added crunchiness and a gentle undertone, with a hint of creamy pine nut balancing its natural sharpness. And like the original, this soup tasted just like summer.

Cucumber-Avocado Soup

4 servings

4 large cucumbers, seeded and roughly chopped
1 avocado
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp. Salvadoran or Honduran creme
2 tbsp. heavy cream or half and half
6 – 8 large Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves, plus generous amounts for garnish (about 1 cup)
2 mint leaves, torn (optional, but these smooth out the flavor)
Salt to taste

Scoop avocado from peel and remove pit. Puree cucumber, avocado, and garlic in food processor until finely minced. Add remaining ingredients except for water and pulse in food processor a few seconds at a time until ingredients are combined. Add water until soup reaches the consistency of thin grits or whatever you prefer. Garnish with very generous amounts of parsley.

The soup is best if served immediately. The avocado will create a brownish film on top of the soup if it is kept overnight.

Note: The creams and avocado make this a rich dish, and I noticed a bit of greasiness around my mouth after each bite that some might find unpleasant. To correct this I would suggest reducing the Salvadoran creme to a teaspoon and substituting half and half or whole milk for the heavy cream, or even omitting these and adding chicken broth until the dish is the proper consistency. I did not have chicken broth on hand when I made this, and that may well be what Hege’s used to get the right flavor instead of cream. But I still think the server lied.

Fred turns 50

Fred turned 50 earlier this month–on the Fourth of July, to be exact. The event was marked with a weekend of Fred-filled activities. These included lunch at the North Carolina Museum of Art  . . .

. . . with his adoring wife . . .

. . .  who tried to ignore the fact that he was wearing white tube socks with Italian shoes and carrying books in a battered lunch bag with a prawn on it.

Of course, there were fireworks at the Gwinnett Braves games–I mean, at the Bulls game where they played the Braves.

(Aside: It’s important to understand the role that the Braves play in Fred’s life. At about ten o’clock last night, I was reading in bed when I heard Fred cry out, “Oh God!” from the study, followed by a stream of worried muttering.

“What’s wrong?” I called out anxiously, concerned that he’d received news of a death in the family or that some tragedy had struck a friend.

“It’s 10 – 5 at the bottom of the ninth and the Braves have nearly wrapped it up but this stupid pitcher is throwing BALLS! JUST THROW A STRIKE, WILL YOU? For cryin’ out loud!”

I returned to my book.)

The weekend was capped off with dinner at Angus Barn, the Triangle’s go-to place for an old-fashioned steak dinner with a martini. Even Fred couldn’t finish the 15 ounce Porterhouse he ordered, so it ended up in a sandwich the next day. 

Fred is very excited about the new venture into cooking and food photography that this image represents. He chopped things and assembled them. Perhaps one day he’ll venture into turning on the stove.

But I’m glad he’s spent 5 of his 50 years with me, and I’m hoping for many more.

Roasted Persimmon Salsa

In addition to the loss of our beloved Louise, June has been a trying month for The Newlyfeds. That’s primarily because my work takes me traveling across the country to Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church. There’s generally not much to report food-wise on these trips, unless you fantasize about hotel banquet meals.

Perhaps this overabundance of salad topped with chicken breast, combined with our current explorations of Durham’s taqueria scene, has led me to explore spicier food–along with the prodding of my dear neighbor, Melissa. During one cat-sitting stint for us, she looked over my cookbook collection and upon our return declared, “Your cookbooks seem kind of outdated for someone who writes about food.”

I tried to explain that a) I liked to collect older cookbooks and b) we were too cheap to buy new ones. She raised her eyebrows, looking at me just as my mother did about 40 years ago when I tried to tell her that it was Cindy Riden’s idea to “decorate” my bedroom furniture in magic marker and crayon.

“You can buy used cookbooks on Amazon for practically nothing,” she said. “Come over to my house and look over some of mine. You can even borrow them.”

That’s how I ended up with her copies of Rick Bayless’s Mexico: One Plate at a Time and Mexican Kitchen–two thorough, engaging books that have set me off on a new journey through Mexico’s foodways. Melissa was finally able to pry the books out of my greedy, grasping fingers after several weeks, but fortunately Fred stepped in and bought me copies for my 45th birthday on June 16, along with the newer Salsas that Cook.

I’ve especially enjoyed the salsas, which have introduced me to the technique of roasting garlic and peppers in a skillet to bring out their flavors, then adding to roasted tomatoes.

Inspired by these and by the purchase of some persimmons on a trip to Atlanta, I came up with the recipe below. It’s reminiscent of peach or mango salsa, but not treacly as those can be. Instead, it offers just a hint of sweetness followed by a considerable kick.

If you’ve never tried persimmons, they’re common in the South though not always easily found in the store. The trees grew wild on our farm in Tennessee. These wild ones must be very ripe before they’re eaten; unripe, the taste resembles lemon infused with chalk. The ones you’ll find in stores are a little more forgiving, tasting a bit like a not too sweet apricot with hints of orange. For this recipe, use the ripest ones you can find, or let them ripen on your counter for a few days–the sweeter persimmons help balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

Roasted Persimmon Salsa
2 whole unpeeled, very ripe persimmons (available in most stores)
2 whole unpeeled tomatoes
1-2 whole jalapeno peppers
3 whole cloves unpeeled garlic
Salt to taste
Chopped onion and fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

Set oven rack about 6 inches below broiler and turn broiler on high. Place persimmons and tomatoes on baking sheet with rim. Roast in oven about 6 minutes on each side until blackened in spots. Remove and let cool on sheet.

Meanwhile, place garlic and jalapenos in ungreased skillet on medium high heat. Roast on stove top until blackened in spots, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Remove stems from jalapenos and peel garlic. Chop in food processor or blender a few seconds, until minced. Cut out tops of persimmons and tomatoes and discard; peel if desired. Add to jalapenos and garlic in food processor or blender, along with juice. Chop coarsely and salt to taste. Garnish with onion and cilantro if desired.