The happiest thing in the garden upstate seems to be the Brazilian maxixe (also known as the burr-gherkin), the cucumber-like alien pod vegetable that's been this summer's fun little mystery. The plants are loving the cool, wet summer, and the vines have taken over large sections of the plot. And as maxixe grows with built-in weaponry (the entire thing--leaves, stems, and fruit--is incredibly prickly), it seems practically impossible for a thieving groundhog with the munchies to steal the little ripened orbs. So, as long as the plants haven't floated away during this week's monsoon-like rains, we should have many, many more maxixe this weekend.
Last night, I finally shared a bunch with Tony, who brought the mysterious seeds from Brazil. The enlightenment began. The most important thing to note is, instead of peeling them (as we North Hemispherians had been), just scrape the spines off with a knife. It's sooo much easier and, even better, preserves the wonderfully tasty skin.
Eating them raw is obviously the easiest way to partake of these little babies. We've been slicing them and popping them into salads, and I also marinated thin slices in white vinegar and green onion, which created an amazingly flavorful sort of maxixe pickle.
There are also lots of recipes for cooked maxixe. Tony lightly sautéed thick slices in minced garlic, resulting in a crunchy, flavorful side dish. Cooks also use Maxixe in farofa (one of my favorite Brazilian staples), and a traditional stew from Brazil's northeast, Maxixada, which I'd like to try making. (I found a recipe in English here, and here's one in Portugese.)
UPDATE: For the curious, Maxixe basically tastes like Kirby cucumbers, a little sweet and sometimes bitter.