As summer approaches, I no longer crave hearty braises or roasted roots - actually, I prefer to stay as far from the oven as possible. Instead, I turn to composed salads, grilled fish and chilled soups. Freshness and simplicity best describe my cooking June through August. Cucumbers are one of my favorite summer vegetables. They are composed of over 90 percent water (and interestingly, are actually related to the watermelon). They are an excellent thirst-quenching, cooling food – perfect sustenance for a long, hot day. I purchase cucumbers that are firm (rather than pliable), plump, unblemished (no yellowing or soft spots), and heavy for their size. I prefer the relatively small Middle Eastern and Lemon varieties, as I have found their skin and seeds are rarely bitter; if you purchase a common cucumber, you will likely need to peel and seed it before using (especially for the recipe below). I hope you enjoy (the recipe and your summer)! —Michelle McKenzie
medium cucumbers (approximately 1 1/2 lb total), peeled, seeded if necessary, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
teaspoon rice wine vinegar, or more to taste
medium ripe avocado
chopped fresh garlic chives (or scallion)
freshly squeezed ginger juice to taste
sea salt to taste
diced avocado and chopped chives for garnish (optional)
Place sliced cucumber in a large bowl. Toss with sea salt, rice wine vinegar and honey; allow to marinate for at least one hour, or up to three. The salt should draw out a lot of the cucumbers' liquid, which will aid with pureeing (alternatively, you could have a shorter marinating time and use more water for blending, but I expect this will dilute the flavor).
If you have a porcelain ginger grater, great - if not, a Microplane works just fine. Hold grater over a small square of double-layered cheesecloth. Grate a piece of ginger (there is no need to peel!) onto cheesecloth until you have about 1 heaping tablespoon. Over a small bowl, pull the four corners of the cheesecloth around the grated ginger and twist to release the juice.
Peel and pit the avocado and add to a blender along with the cucumber mixture (and all of the liquid that’s been released), the chopped chives, and the ginger juice (start with a teaspoon and then add more later to suit your taste). Add a generous pinch of sea salt. Puree until very smooth, about 2 minutes, adding filtered water to facilitate blending until desired consistency is achieved (not as thick as baby food, but more viscous than juice). Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Optional - I like to pass every soup I make through a chinois (a conically-shaped fine-meshed strainer). Straining soups makes them silky-smooth and helps remove air bubbles caused by blending. However, it is absolutely not necessary to do so.
Chill until ready to serve. Divide soup amongst chilled bowls, garnish with three pieces of diced avocado and a sprinkling of finely chopped chives.
Michelle McKenzie is the author of Dandelion & Quince: Exploring the Wide World of Unusual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs. Her second cookbook, The Modern Larder, is due to arrive in fall 2018 and will introduce home-cooks to a raft of new, flavor-packed pantry staples - e.g. shiso, ndjua, Job's Tears, and dozens of others - and incorporate them into over 200 wholesome recipes.