Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cucumber and Feta Salad with Pita Bread Crouton

I write about it every year about the same time, the fact that there is no other food that defines the season better than the tomato.  Summer=tomato.  And with the mind-boggling record heat this summer season, the tomatoes have arrived a bit earlier than usual.  Although I'm a novice at tomato gardening, I had a variety of plants in the ground a mere two weeks after we bought the land.  These fruits were ready (with a few green ones that fell off in the process) in only 2 months. Five inches high to five seven feet high in 8 weeks.  There's gonna be a lot of BLT's in the next few weeks, I got a big batch of tomato-basil mayo already giddy for the occasion. 

Everyone knows that tomatoes taste best right off the vine, preferably from your own yard, or your Mom's.  Everyone knows that supermarket tomatoes taste very bland, and everyone knows this is because of the produce companies genetically modifying these orbs to have a longer shelf life, full red color, and perfect round shape.  Profit over taste, is what that is.  You know why they do it, but do you know how it happens?  According to Cornell University plant biologist James J. Giovannoni, the tasteless big box store tomatoes have a mutated S1GLK2 gene that results in an extra DNA base which disrupts the gene's sequence, causing its protein to be truncated and therefore inactive.  This gene is essential for activating the production of chloroplasts, which are the organelles that capture sunlight for sugar production.  These chloroplasts are also a main contributor to the tomato's aroma molecules, so those tomatoes you buy in January have less sugar content and less flavor.  Those assholes! 

Why I am writing about tomatoes when there are no tomatoes in the recipe?

That's called irony. It's delicious.  Just like that ugly-ass tomato in the far right-upper corner, that will be super yummy.  The uglier=the tastier. 

We have a good friend who doesn't/won't/can't eat tomatoes.  She was once in Greece, and ordered a Greek salad.  This dish is usually a tasty combination of cucumber, feta, olives, sometimes  thin slices of red onion, and always hunks of tomato.  She asked for no tomato, I believe, multiple times.  When the plate arrived, she was a bit confused to find only a giant mound of tomatoes.  I don't believe she was too happy with that server, as the order wasn't completely understood.  As a side dish for a BBQ this friend attended, I made sure her desire to be tomato-less wasn't lost in translation. 

The cukes for this dish also came from the garden, but you can get them from the store- the only gene mutations in them are the seedless ones.  This is a great recipe to just get the cheaper seeded variety vs. seedless, as you have to dice them anyway, so cutting out the seeds is a easy extra step.

If you have smaller mint leaves, you can just throw them in whole or torn in half- large ones though, you want to chop to avoid chewing on a giant mint leaf. If you can't find watercress, it's not essential, but does add a nice touch.

Cucumber and Feta Salad with Pita Bread Crouton
4 servings as side dish

2 pita breads, cut into 1" squares
3 TB white wine vinegar
1/4 C good EVOO
pinch  kosher salt
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and 1/2" dice
1 bunch of mint, trimmed, roughly chopped (about 3/4 C)
1/2 bunch watercress, roughly chopped (about 1/2 C)
6-8 oz good feta cheese, diced
freshly cracked black pepper

Fire up the oven to tree five oh.  Place your pita squares on a sheet pan and  bake until crisp, about 20-22 minutes.  Shake pan and rotate halfway through, start checking them at 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, add the vinegar and a pinch of kosher salt.  Whisk in the EVOO slowly, to ensure a nice emulsification.

In a large salad bowl, combine the cucumber, celery, and feta.  Add the dressing and toss well, then incorporate the mint, watercress, and pita bread crouton.  Season with pepper and again toss that salad.  Serve immediately to somewhat soon. 

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