If you are keen on Asian produce at the farmers’ markets, you’re likely buying from Hmong farmers. They are amazing cultivators of the land and have transported their agricultural skills from Southeast Asia to America. In California, our Hmong farmers raise crops inland where it’s super hot and more suitable for Asian crops such as eggplant, long beans, and chiles.
I learn a lot from talking to the Hmong farmers who come to our Saturday morning farmers’ market at Cabrillo College. They are a young couple named Tra Her and Kou Moua who together make KT Farms. Tra is a school teacher who on the weekends works multiple markets with her husband Kou. Other family members show up at the Friday afternoon market in nearby Watsonville.
I’ve been buying from KT Farms since they first came to our market about 6 years ago. I want to support their business and selfishly insure a supply of super fresh Asian produce.
Hmong farmers grow all kinds of Asian vegetables and herbs. You may not know what to do with some of the stuff so ask questions!
Richard Molinar and Michael Yang at the UC Coop Extension office in Fresno put together a nice online guide to Asian vegetables. It’s super helpful to farmers and customers alike.
Last weekend at the market, I spied a big pill-shaped melon (it looked like a gigantic oblong lemon cucumber) that Tra had cut open to show customers. She is a school teacher and knows how important show-and-tell is.
John Xiong, a Fresno Hmong farmer whom I wrote about for a 2007 Saveur magazine story, once gave me a refreshing drink made from a fruit that he called a cucumber. I’d forgotten what it looked like so I asked Tra if what she had was a Hmong cucumber for making the drink.
“Yes, this is it. Just scrape it with a fork and mix with sugar,” she said, making the scraping motion with her hand.
I went home and attacked the melon with a fork and came up with a beverage that I dubbed Hmong and cucumber mint cooler. The mint is my twist to give the chunky beverage an herbal note. Rory, my husband, was doubtful at first, but once he sipped it, he was sold on its delicate flavor and cooling qualities. "It's like a great spa treatment," he said.
Here’s a recipe for how to make your own:
Hmong Cucumber and Mint Cooler
Hmong cucumber is halfway between a cucumber and a melon. It doesn’t taste like much on its own until you add sugar. Then it is transformed. Without a Hmong cucumber, use honeydew melon.
Yield depends on the size of your cucumber!
One whole or a half Hmong cucumber
5 to 8 large mint leaves
1. Halve the cucumber lengthwise, in needed. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.
2. Use the tines of a fork to scrape out the flesh, depositing them in a bowl. Try to get down to the cucumber skin. Discard when there is little flesh left. The flesh will be in pale green pieces. (If you want a smoothie-like texture, puree the flesh in a blender before moving on.)
3. Measure how much flesh you have. For every cup, stir in 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons sugar and 3 or 4 mint leaves. Your stirring will dissolve the sugar and bruise the mint. Don’t be alarmed as the cucumber flesh gives off some bubbles. Taste to make sure there is a pronounced sweet flavor.
4. For each 1 cup of flesh, add 1/2 cup water, stirring to combine. Serve over ice, stirring a few times to chill the mixture. (Alternatively, chill the mixture and then serve it over ice.) Present this cooler with a spoon for guests to eat the flesh.
Have you had this drink or ones similar to it? If you're familiar with Hmong cucumber, what do you do with it?
Other Hmong related posts: