A culinary exploration of this Monday’s Munch

The senior center menu for this Monday Munch, May 6, is roasted veggie fajitas, cucumber and tomato salad, roasted potatoes, churro cheesecake bars and cranberry seltzer. The munching happens 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

A popular dish in Tex-Mex cuisine,“fajita” means “strip,” and originated as a strip of meat, piled with condiments and wrapped in a tortilla. The Austin Chronicles offers an interesting history.

This year’s Shreveport contest for the Golden Taco award, billed as “the most coveted taco prize in the world” was April 27. Don’t feel bad. There’s plenty of time left before the SoCal Taco Fest on Aug. 17 in San Diego. There, besides plenty of tacos, you can see chihuahua races and a chihuahua beauty contest.

Being Southern California, this fest needs a set of rules for attendees, including “no smoking, no moshing and no nudity.”

Raised in Northern California, I heard plenty of words about the southern part of the state.

Another item on the Monday Munch menu features something decidedly northeastern: cranberries. Wild cranberries were a staple for Native Americans who used then as health remedies and in foods and drinks. National Geographic notes that cranberries were used in an energy bar-like food called “pemmican,” which served as a vital source of nutrition for fur traders during the winter months.

The venerable Merriam-Webster tells us that “seltzer” is carbonated water and the word is a modification of the German selters wasser or water of Selters, Germany. Try looking up cranberry seltzer on the internet, and it seems impossible to find it without vodka. We can safely assume that the drink served by volunteer cooks at Monday Munch at the Charlotte Senior Center will most definitely not include any alcohol.

In 1912, Marcus L. Urann gave up his law practice, bought a cranberry bog and began to can cranberries. He formed a cooperative for cranberry production, which became Ocean Spray. You can read about this in The Smithsonian.

Calling the cranberry a super food, the Cranberry Institute offers a database of nearly 900 studies about the benefits of eating cranberries year-round, but cranberry growing season is short. Only about 5 percent of the cranberry crop is sold as fresh fruit. The Ocean Spray “log” became available nationwide in 1941. Now, Americans consume 5,062,500 gallons of jellied cranberry sauce each year.

Hosts at NPR tried a berry developed by the cranberry breeding program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Researchers there had decided that cranberry growing need not be limited to the Northeast. Since their goal was to develop a berry with a sweeter taste, they named their production “Sweetie.” Reception from radio hosts was mixed.

One of the oldest cultivated vegetables, the cucumber, brought to Haiti by Christopher Columbus, may have originated in India, where it’s been cultivated for 3,000 years.

Look up “tzatziki,” and you’ll find lots of information about this popular yogurt-cucumber dish, often featured in Southwestern Europe and West Asia, where it can be a dip, sauce, soup or dressing. Online, the Greek Chef voices a strong opinion, declaring, “Tzatziki is Greek, no other country can claim the most famous Greek food in the world (it’s a few centuries older than Greek Mousaka)!!!”

He continues, “The Ottoman Empire ruled over Greece from the 16th century until World War 1. During this period, it was mandatory to give Turkish names to all Greek foods; hence many Greek dishes still have names of Turkish origin. That’s all; the rest is just small talk.”

Former New York Times book editor Dwight Garner gets to the basics, describing the refreshing salad he eats almost daily: “thinly sliced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, with a dash of olive oil.” You’ll find lots of food stories and wonderfully wry comments in his 2023 book,“The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading,”

Garner, of course, isn’t writing the cooking section for The Times, and with 11,222 entries on “cucumber,” it offers lots of preparation possibilities. As usual, there are some complications. For the first recipe listed, you’ll need fresh, firm fish such as bass. Other recipes call for shrimp, lox or shredded barbecued chicken. Cucumbers almost seem like an afterthought in the recipe list of marinated meat, runny eggs, shiitake mushroom, bean sprouts, spinach, carrots and cucumbers over a bed of rice.

Answering a spousal argument over whether the cucumber is a fruit or a vegetable, as usual, Judge John Hodgman provides the saving grace to the New York Times’ seemingly endless list of cucumber possibilities. We’re told the wife is getting her doctorate in genetics, so, following the encyclopedia definition of fruit as “the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a flowering plant,” she declares, “the cucumber is a fruit.”

Hodgman says both parties in this pair have earned a master’s in Pointless Argumentation, and he advises, just call them “cukes.”

Macka B’s “The Original Cucuma,” is a Jamaican rap on the health advantages of eating cucumbers.

For a fajita reminder, enjoy “Guadalajara”.

Check the Charlotte Senior Center website for the menu for Monday Munch on May 13.

Bon appétit!