The past few months have been rough on the Spanish cucumber.
It all began with a false accusation. Based on what was later found to be inconclusive evidence, as you’ve likely heard, the Spanish cucumber was charged with causing the deadly E.coli outbreak in Germany. Truckloads of Spanish cucumbers (and other vegetables, too) were turned away at the German border. The nightly news in Spain showed close-ups of rivers of cucumbers falling over the edges of bulldozer shovels into industrial-sized dumpsters. The market languished.
But wait – another announcement came that it hadn’t been the Spanish cucumber after all. Yet the damage had been done, and Spanish agriculture continues to suffer. The Spanish government has calculated losses so far at €51 million, the amount requested as compensation from the European Union, as reported in this article in El País. The fiasco has been coined, “la crisis del pepino,” the Cucumber Crisis.
Things are looking up, however. According to the same El País article, national consumption of Spanish produce has increased about 10% over the last month. The crisis has spawned a cucumber movement of sorts, with Facebook pages, such as here and here, and a new Spanish cucumber YouTube video genre. Cucumber-based recipes abound on cooking shows and in food blogs. An ice cream shop in Valencia has even started making cucumber ice cream to support the cause.
In addition to this homegrown movement, the government has launched a national advertising campaign with the goal of rebuilding consumer confidence. The slogan: “There are thousands of ways to support our vegetables. Choose yours.” The initiative includes slick ads and even campaign buttons, as you can see in the image below. My favorite reads, “I’m a chard fan.” (Soy fan de la Acelga.) Have you ever seen a more innocent-looking tomato?
As one Spanish food blogger noted, the campaign may not be necessary for Spaniards, who were already doing their part to support the nation’s farmers – it could be more effective elsewhere in Europe, where local pride does not come into play. Nonetheless, confidence appears to be returning elsewhere, too, albeit slowly.
I must say, I’ve rarely felt so good about eating my veggies – slicing into a cucumber has become an altruistic endeavor. If only all crises were so easy, and pleasurable, to resolve.
Watermelon Gazpacho (with cucumbers, of course!) Adapted from “Fashion” watermelon publicity pamphlet
While buying cucumbers the other day at my local indoor market, I noticed the “Fashion Watermelon.” More specifically, I noticed the advertisement (*see below) for this new, unfortunately named variety, including recipe suggestions from chef Josué Rodríguez, of Almería (where much Spanish produce originates, including the maligned cucumbers). I have to say my interest in the pamphlet was at first ironic – I mean, look at the way the models are holding the watermelon – but my satisfaction was real. So here I am doing the publicity – the irony’s on me.
This quick, refreshing summer soup toes the line between savory and sweet. What I really like about it is that all the flavors harmonize, which actually surprised me – I thought it would be much more watermelon-forward, and potentially cloying. But I was intrigued, and rewarded. And most importantly, there’s a lovely cucumber essence in each bite.
For the gazpacho
2 pounds seedless watermelon (without rind) – about 4 cups of 2-inch chunks
1 medium cucumber, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/2 medium red pepper, seeded and cut into large chunks
3 very ripe medium tomatoes, quartered
2 cups cubed white bread, crust removed (I used a baguette.)
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fragrant extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
For the garnishes
Finely diced cucumber
Finely diced red pepper
Finely diced spring onion
Good extra-virgin olive oil
Anything else that suits your fancy
Drop the watermelon, cucumber, red pepper and tomatoes into a food processor or blender and puree. Add the bread and puree some more. Pour in the vinegar, olive oil and season with salt (I started with 1/2 teaspoon) and fresh-ground pepper, and puree again, this time until very smooth (about 2 minutes). Adjust the vinegar, olive oil, salt and/or pepper if desired. The recipe says to strain the soup at this point, but I skipped this step and didn’t miss it. Refrigerate the soup until it is completely chilled, at least 2 hours.
Serve cold, drizzled with olive oil. Place the garnishes in mini dishes to pass around separately at the table.
YIELD: 4-6 servings