The Magic Of Mexican Sour Gherkins

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Pre-Pickled Gherkins

This summer, I organized the planting for a marvelous accessible play space called Owen’s Playground. Besides swings and slides and climbing rocks, we installed a spiraling series of beds that hold a wide assortment of sensory plants, including lots of edibles. One of my favorite features is a full skirted dome covered in wire mesh. I’d asked for a bean teepee structure and got a magical hobbit house instead.

I’d planned to cover it with scarlet runner beans, but by the time the bed was ready to plant, I changed my mind and filled it with Mexican Sour Gherkins. Now, if you think of gherkins as tiny cucumbers brined into pickles, you’re quite right. These, however, are something quite different. In fact, Mexican Sour Gherkins are so different that they’ve become a foodie fad and the new darling of haute chefs. Drinkmeisters also love them and they’ve found their way into many a mixicologist’s recipe book, since they have an affinity for gin.

Crowd & Kid Pleasers

Kids also love eating these spunky little nuggets, and my erstwhile bean teepee is now a popular hangout for adventurous eaters of all ages. Eat one and you’ll quickly figure out that Mexican Sour Gherkins are related to cucumbers (Cucumis sativus). These tiny melons (Melothria scabra) are native to South and Central America, where they are extremely popular. Sometimes called ‘mouse melons’, the fruit is about the size of my thumb joint, and looks exactly like a miniature watermelon, stripes and all. The skin is crisp while the juicy insides combine the flavors of cucumber and citrus with subtle sweetness. Pop one in your mouth and you get a mini explosion of bright-tart-sweet-cool flavors that leave a clean, fresh aftertaste. What’s not to love?

The fine-textured foliage and skinny, twining stems make Mexican Sour Gherkin seem like a natural climber, but unless it’s got firm trellising to grab, it’s more of a tumbler. You definitely want to keep them off the ground, since slugs love these little guys. Given a good start, these fast growers will cover a trellis with ease. At the playground, once the plants settled in, they scrambled up the head-high mesh with great good will. In my back deck garden, they’ve rambled through similar mesh panels and despite frequent harvesting are still covered with plump little fruit. Several gardeners I know keep theirs in big, overhead hanging baskets, where the plants cascade from containers to picking height.

So Easy To Grow

In any case, when they are happy, Mexican Sour Gherkins grow with ease, with few pests (apart from those slugs). They do fine in any good garden soil, and though, like all melons, they prefer warm summers, they are more tolerant of cool temperatures than the big guy watermelons. If you can grow other melons, you can grow these cute little puppies, and you can plan on harvesting right up to the first frost.

Many folks pickle Mexican Sour Gherkins, but I prefer them fresh, in salsas, pitas, and sandwiches, or added to stir fries, soups, and curries. That zesty flavor makes them a natural fit for salads of many kinds, from fruity to leafy. Here are a few especially tasty combinations to try:

Savory Summer Salad

2 cups chopped cucumber
2 cups peeled, cubed melon
1 cup Mexican sour gherkins, halved
1 cup blueberries or huckleberries
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup stemmed Italian parsley
2 tablespoons minced mint
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Gently toss all ingredients and let stand for 20 minutes before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature. Serves 4-6.

Zippy Summer Salad

1 cup Greek plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 head Butter lettuce, torn in pieces
2 cups chopped cucumber
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup halved Mexican sour gherkins
4 green onions, thinly sliced

Combine yogurt, garlic, basil, and sea salt, set aside for at least 10 minutes. In a serving bowl, combine remaining ingredients, toss with yogurt dressing and serve. Serves 4-6.

Perfect Poaching

If you find salmon hard to cook, try low-liquid poaching. This gentle technique is fast and foolproof, resulting in velvety, flavorful fish that’s never dry.

Poached Salmon With Sour Gherkin Salsa

For the fish:

1 pound wild salmon fillet, cut in four pieces
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice or dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Rinse fish well and place skin side down in a wide, shallow pan. Add lemon juice to a depth of about 1/8 inch, splashing some on the fish. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Bring liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Cover pan, reduce heat to low an simmer for 8-10 minutes, to interior temperature of 136 degrees F. (usually 10 minutes for inch-thick fillets). Add a little water if need be (usually not). Remove from heat, uncover pan and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve with salsa (see below). Serve four.

For the salsa:

Sour Gherkin Salsa

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 ear fresh sweet corn, kernels trimmed
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped Mexican sour gherkins
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup stemmed fresh cilantro
2-3 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (use gloves)

Combine first 6 ingredients, then add lime juice, sea salt, and jalapeno to taste. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Makes about 2 cups. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days.

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