Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cool Cukes: 7 Minute Summer in a Jar

The perfect mix of sweet, tangy, little bit fiery, and fresh. The stuff my Nanny (read: grandma) always had in the fridge in summer as soon as the cucumbers were ripe in her Tennessee garden. My version is sweeter than it is tangy and has a spicy little bite from hot peppers. I use it as a topper for salads, a side dish at almost every meal, and on sandwiches all summer..except maybe PB&Js. This week the Farmer's Market yielded golden cucumbers and new red onions which made the wonderfully colorful jar on the right. And within 24 hrs it had a lovely pink hue from those onions.

**I originally posted this recipe on my Daily*Dishin blog and it appeared in the Food Network Summerfest as well. I have altered the recipe to replace the sugar with Splenda and was so surprised at how good it tasted that I decided to include it here, especially since I am never without a jar in my fridge.**

I look for smallish cucumbers usually, but this long english cucumber (like the kind shrinkwrapped in the store) makes a really good choice because the seedy part is minimal and never mushy. The golden cukes turned out to be fairly green inside and quite seedy so I scooped that  part with a spoon.

I think these are best when cut very thin. A mandoline makes quick work of this step. I use my ├╝ber cheap, ancient Ronco slicer-dicer gadget (set to #2, for anyone out there who is lucky enough to have one of these little baby dinosaurs lying around). Go ahead and layer cucumbers alternating with onions in the jar before pouring on the liquid.  Mix 1/4 cup Splenda and 1/4 cup water with 3/4 cup vinegar, good pinch of salt and pepper. I whisk this together but it really doesn't matter whether the sugar dissolves now or after you pour into the jar. It will all work out.
Ratio is 3 times as much vinegar as sugar.

Slowly pour the liquid until it is almost to the top. The cucumbers will release more juice and top it off within a few hours. For the yellow cukes I used Champagne vinegar. You can try various others, but plain white is the standby.
I add the peppers last because they're easiest to get into place after the liquid. Slip a butter knife into the jar to gently press back the vegetables and make room to slide the peppers in all around. I know they're beautiful, but don't get too carried away unless you like it HOT! Because it's still a little early for fresh red peppers I used these dried Ancho Chiles which turn bright red again in the jar.

I added one more flavor element to this jar. It's a garlic scape, the top part of the growing garlic that is chopped off early in the season. These keep for ages in the fridge and I still had some from weeks ago. They impart a nice mild garlic flavor and look kind of interesting in the jar and not snakey at all, hmm. Some fresh dill goes in last right on the top. I only had a little to add this week, but the more the merrier, if you have plenty. Give these a day to flavor up and have at 'em! They only get better and better as the days go by, not that you can expect them to last very long.

If you're following the Take Shape For Life program, you may find as I did that these are a great appetite suppressant for some reason. I often have a small dish (maybe 1/4 cup - so only half a veg serving) if dinner is running late or I'm hungry and in the midst of preparing a big meal.
4-6 small cucumbers
1 vidalia onion
fresh dill

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