Beets and cucumbers and squash (Oh my)


A few years ago, I stumbled across an amazing book, Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table by Linda Ellerbee. For those of you that don’t know Ellerbee, well, I’m sorry. She is both brilliant and amazing.

I was first introduced to her decades ago when she was working on NBC News Overnight. A vastly underappreciated show, and she was terrific on it. Fun, easy going, and so wisely smart. (Trust me… wisely smart… it works as a description. I think she’d also appreciate wisely smartass.) Her autobiography, And So It Goes, should be a must read.

Take Big Bites is a cookbook. Sort of. It is also a travel book. An autobiography. A collection of stories, woven by a master. I highly recommend any of her work, but this book is an especially good effort. One of the most appealing aspects of it for me was that each recipe she shared there had an impressive reason for why it was included.

Recently I posted an essay about our garden. Somehow, that connected with a few people. I got e-mails… quickly arriving, very specific… e-mails. People wanted to know about the beet salad I mentioned. They also asked what we do with all of our cucumbers. And so… in several unexpected ways, by popular demand… another garden story, along with two recipes.

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There are a few things I appreciate about a garden. Actually, more than a few. When it comes to creating amazing smiles and ongoing thrills though, two seem to stand out: (1) Finding ways to make the overwhelming arrival of specific vegetables constantly exciting. Cucumbers for instance. It’s easy to get bored with cucumbers. Finding a way to continuously open the fridge, spot the same item, and still be reaching for it day after day… yes… that’s awesome. And, (2) bringing a new item to the garden that you either hadn’t grown previously or had battled unsuccessfully in previous years to grow.

This year, we’ve picked several dozen zucchini and cucumbers out of our garden already. And I mean that literally, with probably six or seven dozen of each harvested. The zucchini has been added to dinners and baked into breads. And the cucumbers…

I decided early on that I wanted to try and mimic the sweet slaw-like dishes I’ve found in a handful of Chinese restaurants. Something built on a rice vinegar. Terry and I found a few recipes we thought were intriguing, stripped them down to the basic ingredients, and developed a four-item dressing that works wonderfully for us.

Several seasons ago, in a previous garden, we tried to grow beets. We were both pretty excited about the possibilities… until some critters beat us to them and left us with absolutely nothing to enjoy.

Things have been different in this year’s garden. Not only have we been bringing in some beets already, we have some continuing to grow right now and another wave that should be ready late in August.

The beet recipe comes with a warning label of sorts. Balsamic vinegar… actually, any vinegar, so apply this to both recipes… can be tricky to work with. Tastes vary so greatly from person to person, that what one person thinks is perfect the next will find far to tart and acidic.

We decided to go with more of a side-dish-salad approach for the beet recipe… a simple dressing used with the beets, glazed walnuts and gorgonzola crumbles. And yet, the dressing is founded on a very basic vinaigrette concept, which means you could take this entire dish and serve it over greens as a terrific salad.

I’m making no apologies for these recipes, though those more experienced in the kitchen will immediately recognize their simplicity.

It’s the story of this year’s garden… offered in two recipes, requested by some web site visitors.


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Quick pickled cucumbers


2-3 cucumbers (average size to large)
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger

Peel and slice cucumbers and place in storage container with sealable top.

In a bowl, mix remaining ingredients thoroughly. Pour over cucumbers. Toss to coat all slices, cover and refrigerate. Once or twice before serving, open, stir and return to fridge.


All ingredients can be adjusted to taste, but know that the sesame oil in particular can be a strong and overwhelming part of the dressing if increased.

Dressing can be adjusted in amounts for larger batches. However, keep in mind that the amount of liquid will increase as the cucumbers soak in the dressing. As such, look for the dressing to rest at about half to two-thirds of the height of the cucumbers when first brought together.

Adding green onions or thin slices of a sweet onion works well with this recipe. You could likely also use it with cabbage for something more closely tied to a slaw concept, and with other vegetables if you wanted, though we have not tried that yet.

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Beets, walnuts and gorgonzola salad


Glazed walnuts
Gorgonzola crumbles (blue cheese crumbles work as well)
Balsamic dressing (below)

Start with beets, cooked (boiled, peeled, etc., but not seasoned or dressed in any way) and sliced. Chill beets for at least 2-3 hours.

Place beets on plate/bowl. Add walnuts and gorgonzola crumbles. Lightly drizzle dressing on top. Amounts to use of each are to taste.


2 parts olive oil
1 part balsamic vinegar
1 part honey
Fresh thyme

Add ingredients together, stir or shake, then chill briefly before serving.


This is a great recipe for a side dish or a snack. It works best when assembled at the time you are going to eat it.

Amount of thyme, salt and pepper varies based on amount of dressing made, but should be kept to about 1/4 teaspoon of thyme and pinches of salt and pepper for each cup of dressing. For instance: 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, pinch of salt, pinch of pepper.

Dressing can get thick if too cold, so it generally works best made a few hours before serving and for that one service.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at