Cool Savory, Cooler Sweet

Posted on July 9, 2012

Summer Sunday dinners chez nous usually involve the driveway, the Weber grill, and a large bag of lump hardwood charcoal. Outdoor grilling is no cooler than rangetop cooking (just ask your home’s grill master how comfortable he/she feels as you bring him/her another ice cold beer or tall glass of ice water) but cooking outside beats lighting the oven and heating up an already-warm kitchen.

On this past hot Sunday, we reached into the deep freeze for the local farm-raised lamb leg I purchased from Middle Earth back in the very early spring, thawed it and removed the bone, and then cooked it on the Weber. A wood-fire grilled butterflied leg of lamb rubbed with garlic, salt, and pepper is a real treat, its savory charred crust yielding to tender pink succulence inside. Between the heady aromas of garlic and smoke, the sizzle of dripping juices hitting the coals, and the  blanket of the day’s heat that surrounds, hungry and impressionable folks might begin to believe they are near an outdoor spit roaster in the rugged and untamed landscape of Santorini or Sardinia, breezes ruffling the hair, instead of tending an open flame on a narrow patch of asphalt, perspiration-soaked back to the garage door.

If you’d like to perpetuate that whole “cooking in the wilds of the Mediterranean” fantasy, pair slices of the grilled lamb with a cool but tart cucumber and yoghurt salad, a take on the tzatziki commonly served with souvlaki. If you don’t grill, or if you don’t eat lamb (or any meat for that matter), try this salad anyway. It’s tart, it’s refreshing, it makes a nice change from a tossed salad, and it’s a great way to use the (over)abundance of cucumbers in your CSA share.

Then, when dinner’s over, leave Greece for Sicily and use your sun-kissed wild strawberries and citrus to make a strawberry-lime version of that island’s favorite cold dessert: granita. Falling somewhere between smooth sorbet and chunkier shaved ice, granita is super easy to make at home and requires no ice cream maker, but rather a baking pan and a fork. By the way, the strawberries don’t really have to be the wild Sicilian variety. They can come, as mine did, from the local farm. But tell yourself the berries are wild if you need to or want to. Create your own atmosphere and get away for a while, even if only in your own mind. Let the good cooking and eating transport you.

Cucumber and Yoghurt Salad

  • 2 medium or 4 small unwaxed cucumbers, washed
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups good quality plain yoghurt  (I used whole milk yoghurt; use what suits your taste)
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed through a garlic press
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the cucumbers, trim off the ends. Then, using a vegetable peeler, peel thin strips lengthwise from one side of the cuke until you reach the center row of seeds. Turn the cucumber over and repeat on the second side. Continue until you have peeled all four sides as much as possible and have only the seed core remaining. Repeat with the rest of the cucumbers. Place all the slices in a colander or fine mesh sieve and salt them with about a teaspoon of salt. Place the sieve over a bowl or the sink and let the water drain from the cucumber slices for about 30 minutes.

Make the yoghurt sauce by mixing together in a medium size mixing bowl the yoghurt, the pressed garlic, the scallions, the parsley, the lemon juice and a generous grinding of black pepper. Use the larger amount of yoghurt in the range given for a saucier consistency.

Remove the cucumber slices to several sheets of paper towel and blot them dry, removing extra salt and gently squeezing out any extra water if necessary. Place the slices into the yoghurt sauce and combine gently to blend.

Taste the salad and add only as much salt as is needed to enhance the dish.

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Strawberry-Lime Granita

  • 2 pounds fresh strawberries*
  • 2 limes, zested and then juiced
  • 2 cups water, heated
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

Wash, hull, and slice the strawberries. Place these into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade and puree until smooth. If you have a smaller capacity food processor, you may wish to divide the recipe right down the middle and make it in two batches as the processor will become quite full as you continue to add the remaining ingredients.

*Strawberry note: Here’s where I need to tell you that I used berries that I froze a couple of weeks ago at the end of the strawberry season. I didn’t thaw them, but sliced them roughly and put them into the food processor still frosty. My puree was more like slush at this point.

More on the results of my choice to use frozen berries later. In the meantime, if you have fresh berries, use them. If you have fresh but frozen berries, use them instead. I wouldn’t, however, use commercially frozen berries as these sometimes have sugar added, making a sweet syrup.

Add the lime zest and juice to the berries in the food processor and pulse a few times to blend.

Combine the 2 cups of hot water with the sugar and stir until the sugar is dissoved. Let this mixture cool a bit, then add it in a slow stream through the food processor feed tube. Repeat this process if you have divided the recipe and are making it in two batches. Blend until combined.

Once blended, divide the strawberry granita base between two 9-inch by 9-inch metal baking pans, preferably non-stick if possible. Place both pans into the freezer. After half an hour, remove the pans. Use a dinner fork and scrape the forming crystals from the edges of the pan and wherever else they have formed. Push these crystals with the fork into the center of the pans, and return the pans to the freezer. Repeat every 30 minutes until all the liquid base has frozen to a slushy, but spoonable/scoopable consistency.

Transfer the granita from both pans to a large storage container that can be fitted with a tight lid. Serve the granita immediately and save any leftovers tightly covered in the freezer.

I found the frozen berries yielded a smoother, less crystallized product, possibly because I was freezing something already slushy as opposed to something very liquid. Larger crystals wouldn’t have had the chance to form. I actually really liked the results, and you may too, so consider freezing the berries first. Either way you choose, you will end up with an intensely flavored fresh fruit dessert that everyone will love. Try making the granita with other berries, if you wish.

©2012  Jane A. Ward