With another round of the coronavirus rolling through Arkansas, the folks in Features thought maybe we all needed some comfort -- comfort food, that is. So we've asked our own Northwest Arkansas celebrities to submit their favorite "Local Flavors," and we'll be sharing them with you throughout the rest of 2021.
A genuine celebrity in the kitchen, Crescent Dragonwagon is known internationally for her relationship with food. To longtime Northwest Arkansans, she is remembered as founder of Dairy Hollow House, a wildly popular country inn and restaurant that helped define the bed-and-breakfast concept in Eureka Springs in the 1980s and '90s. She is also the author of books like "The Cornbread Gospels," "Bean by Bean" and "Passionate Vegetarian," which won the James Beard Award in 2002. She's taught at Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food, has appeared on television, radio, in newspapers and blogs and wrote and appeared in "Until Just Moistened: A One-Woman Show with Crumbs" at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville.
Now living in Fayetteville, Dragonwagon shared this recipe for a unique comfort food perfect for a sultry Labor Day weekend.
Chilled Cucumber Soup
"When the temperature is consistently above 80, there is always a large canister of this cold soup, both sweet and savory and with an extra layer of chill from fresh mint, in my fridge," says Dragonwagon. "I have been known to eat it for two, even three, meals a day. It is that good, and that nourishing, and it keeps for four or five days.
"I like it with a hefty slice of good wholegrain sourdough bread, toasted and buttered; Dirty Apron's breads are excellent. It's also a good starter for any Greek/Middle Eastern-ish meal, say a big olive-and-feta-studded Greek salad and a hummus or falafel sandwich, with some stuffed commercially made grapeleaves on the side.
"Though I usually write very precise recipes, this one is inherently loosey-goosey, dependent as it is on how many cukes and green grapes you have on hand, and whether you use yogurt or buttermilk. Every batch is a little different texturally and taste-wise, but it's always good and so refreshing.
"If you can make a smoothie, you can make this. Yep, that's right; no heating up the kitchen."
Combine in your food processor or blender:
About two parts chunked cucumber *
About one part green grapes, washed, picked over, and removed from the stem
Pulse, to make a chunky puree. Add the following ingredients:
A handful of almonds or walnuts (raw, unsalted)
A few coarsely chopped green onions (scallions), roots and any tough tops removed; include several inches of the of green tops.
A couple cloves fresh garlic (or, in season, tender garlic scapes)
A whole lot of fresh mint, stripped from the stem (or fresh dill, or a combination of the two, along with a little cilantro if you like)
A little optional agave, maple syrup, or Swerve, to bring up the sweetness of the grapes
Salt to taste
Turn this puree into a large mixing or serving bowl, or a big refrigerator storage container with a lid. Now, stir in enough liquid to make it the consistency of a not-too-thick, textured smoothie. Note: Because the ingredients and proportions vary slightly each time you make it, the exact shade of green varies, too. Sometimes it's quite bright, sometimes more muted.
About half the liquid should be:
Unsweetened plain yogurt, buttermilk, Greek yogurt, or kefir (I love the Brown Cow full fat plain); vegans can substitute non-dairy yogurt
The other half should be:
Water (I used to use vegetable stock but these days am using water.)
Whisk well, and taste. Refrigerate.
Eat/drink/sip your way down. If you want to fancy it up, scatter some minced herbs over the top, some sliced cukes in half-rounds or finely chopped.
Bliss on a hot afternoon.
Note: The quality of the cukes is one element that can make or break this. You want unwaxed, preferably Persian or Euro, but any variety will do as long as you've tasted it and ascertained that it is sweet, fresh and crisp-crunchy, not bitter or soft, and either seedless or young enough that the seeds are barely formed and tender. Generally, I leave part of the cuke unchunked, and dice it carefully, stirring it in at the end for texture.
Find out more about Dragonwagon at dragonwagon.com. To suggest your favorite Northwest Arkansas celebrity, email email@example.com.