Cool as a cucumber

Cool as a cucumber

Cool as a cucumber Staying cool is not easy these days. The summer heat is at times suffocating, the political agenda maddening, and it seems that the summer will get more and more heated with the upcoming Presidential elections. It will be hard to remain as cool as a cucumber when the political discourse gets more vicious. Now, it is time to turn back to the wisdom of Ottoman medicine and try to find calming remedies.

Cucumber is one of the coolest vegetables in summer. “Cool” in the sense that it has cold properties according to the Ottoman humoral belief. A healthy diet was key to having a balanced body, according to Ottoman clinical and preventive medicine. The theory was based on Islamic medicine, which was rooted in the teachings of Hippocrates and Galen; and furthermore in the works of Ibn-i Sina, the Islamic physician known in the West as Avicenna. Similar to the Indian dietary concept of Ayurveda, one should eat food that matches their body type, mood, health condition and even the season of the year.
Illnesses were believed to be caused by the imbalance of the four body humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Among these phlegm is cold and moist, that is one needs to balance when one is overly agitated, has fever or the temperature is high. An Ayurvedic diet also recommends cold foods to balance excess pitta, which is associated with heat.

Cucumber is the cure to excess heat. It was considered as having highly cold properties and was advised strongly during hot summer days. A cucumber’s inner flesh will still be cool even if it’s picked when the temperature is relatively high. A Cucumber is ideal during the summer: it has a refreshing crunch, quenches the thirst, freshens the breath, keeps you full without any calories, has a restorative quality, purifies the blood, detoxes the liver, reduces blood pressure, sooths sun-burns, rejuvenates the skin, reduces puffiness in tired eyes, just to name a few of its benefits. Even it’s dark green peel resembling the coolest shades of trees or the whitish green flesh reminiscent of frothy waves beating coral reefs; it truly belongs to summer. Cucumber is Mother Nature’s gift to the summer season; it is also the cure of a summer table. What if we did not have any cucumbers at hand to make an instant cacık, the ultimate cold salad-soup of Turkish summer tables, or çoban salatası, the ubiquitous shepherd’s salad?

As the political atmosphere is heating up, at least one candidate, the joint runner of the two opposition parties is a gentleman who remains as cool as a cucumber for the time being. Having the cool attitude of a true diplomat, he brings a refreshing breeze to the hot political climate of Turkey. We’ll see how he can survive in the craze of the scorching campaign. Here are some recipes to survive July, to stay cool, calm and collected with the aid of a cucumber!

Bite of the week

Recipe of the week: There is nothing to beat the summer heats like a cucumber salad. This one is with a particularly clean taste. Please do not be tempted to dress with olive oil or even lemon juice, the key point is to have the salad as pure as water. Slice very thinly 4 to 6 medium sized cucumbers. Note that the cucumbers will not be peeled. You can do the slicing through the fine blade of a robot. Mix them in a bowl with 1 tsp salt and 1.5 tsp sugar. Add 3-4 tablespoons of weak vinegar, like cider vinegar or apple vinegar. Finely chop a small bunch of dill and toss in. Adding the grated zest of half a lemon will also perk up the salad. Cover with a cling film and keep refrigerated for an hour or so. Serve icy cold.

Cork of the Week:
Gin is making a comeback. The herbal, grassy and even vegetal note of a gin makes it more refreshing in warm summer evenings. Combined with thirst quenching tonic, gin is the rescue spirit of the summer. Gins have an affinity with cucumber, so a Cucumbertini will be an ideal summer cool-down drink. The Turkish contestant of World Class 50, world’s foremost bartender competition has an amazingly cool one. Here is the recipe for Basil-Cucumbertini by Onurcan Gençer of Flamingo (just under the Taksim Inter-Continental Hotel): Take half a medium cucumber; cut into cubes; muddle with a few basil leaves in a shaker; add 40 ml of Tanqueray 10, 30 ml mastic liquor, 30 ml fresh lime juice and 1 ml sugar syrup. Shake vigorously with lots of ice. Double-strain into a cooled Martini glass. Garnish with a pair of basil leaves and a twisted ribbon of cucumber slice.

Fork of the Week: One amazing cold soup recently was at Şimdi, my favorite hangout place just off Beyoğlu, at Asmalı Mescit street, Atlas Apt. No: 5. It was announced as an avocado soup, which it really was, but it had also the unmistakably cooling flavor of a cucumber contrasting with the buttery taste of the avocado. Fearing that it would be rather on the heavy side, I ordered a small one; next time I will definitely order a bigger bowl! Nothing better on a hot summer’s day…