(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 20, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Crisp and sweet, the cucumber is my favorite summer vegetable. The crunch of the cuke hooks me but the cool refreshing flavor keeps me delighted in the heat of the summer.
Cucumbers are categorized mainly as slicing, pickling or exotics. Within these categories, you'll find varieties requiring lots of space/trellises, or dwarf varieties for small spaces or containers. Many of the slicing and exotic cucumbers have thin smooth skin that does not need removed before eating. Cucumbers in the market though, generally have a thicker waxier skin helping with transport. While you can pickle any small cucumber, pickling varieties are smaller and crunchier than slicing varieties.
When it comes to growing slicing cucumbers, I enjoy ‘Sweet Success’ hybrid. Each vine produces straight, thin fruit two to three inches in diameter and 12 or more inches long. The dark skin is spineless and the flesh seedless; both attributes are a huge plus for me. This 1983 All-American Selections winner produces many burpless cucumbers throughout the season and is disease resistant. The fruit is set without pollination so may be grown in a greenhouse. Because this vine is so vigorous, support is recommended.
Cucumbers are an ancient fruit reported to originate in India nearly 3000 years ago. I’m not sure if Indian food was spicy 3000 years ago, but if it was, I’m sure the cucumber was a popular compliment to that heat. Spicy heat isn’t the only heat that cucumbers combat. Hot days are prime for the cucumber to take center stage. Here are some of my favorite recipes to beat the heat.
Lime Cucumber Salad
Another heat-fighting taste, Lime is an ideal pairing for cucumbers.
2 pounds Cucumbers
4T Lime Juice
6T Canola Oil
1 1/2 T. Sugar
2-3T Lime basil Chiffonade (long, thin strips)
Peel and thinly slice cucumbers. Place in a colander, sprinkle with coarse salt. Drain for one hour.
Mix juice, oil and sugar in a blender (I use a stick blender).
Layer cucumbers and basil in a sealable container. Pour lime vinaigrette over the cucumbers. Chill 2-4 hours, occasionally shaking container to mix juices.
Cold Cucumber Soup
If you've never tried cucumber soup you don't know what you're missing. Here is a basic recipe. Served with a great bread, it is a perfect light meal.
3 Large Cucumbers, Diced
3 Green Onions
2 c. Chicken Broth
2 T. Butter
2 c. Milk
Garnish (optional): dill, mint, watercress, or green onion.
Cook onion in broth until soft. Add cucumber, reserving 1/2 cup.
Cook 5 minutes.
Add Butter and Milk. Thicken slightly with cornstarch.
Process or blend until smooth. Add reserved chopped cucumbers. Refrigerate.
Garnish with herb of your choice.
Greek Summer Salad
1 Cucumber, Peeled and Cubed
1 Bell Pepper (orange or yellow for color)
1 Large Tomato, Peeled and Cubed
1/2 Medium Red Onion, Cubed
1/4 c. Olive Oil
3 T. Lemon Juice
2 T. Fresh Greek Oregano
1 Clove Garlic, minced
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 c. Crumbled Feta Cheese
2 T. Black Olives
Combine first four chopped vegetables in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk oil, juice and oregano, garlic and salt until well blended. Pour over vegetables. Chill for one hour or more. Add cheese and olives before serving. May be served on lettuce or alone.
Cucumber Cups — Put the crackers away! Firm cucumbers can stand up to spreads and offer a lower fat alternative for appetizers. Simply slice cucumbers and spread with your favorite dip. For larger cucumber bites, scoop out a bit of the middle and place a mound of chicken or tuna salad on top.
Cucumber Sandwiches — Not just for afternoon tea, cucumber sandwiches are pleasurable for light lunch. Wheat bread, pita bread or wraps are all perfect for cucumber sandwiches. Spread some softened cream cheese on the bread, add cucumbers and dill. If you have fresh garden vegetables available, add lettuce, tomato, radishes or onions!
Cucumbers and Jicama — Doubly cool! Cut each into strips, sprinkle with lemon juice and enjoy the cool, sweet crunch.
Pickles — See Melody Rose's article!
Cucumbers are the perfect vegetable for summer meals. For new tastes, seek out different varieties at local farmers markets. Japanese, Persian, and Armenian exotics are tender and thin; Lemon cucumbers are round, yellow, mild and sweet. Heirloom cucumbers offer unique flavors and appearances. No matter what cucumber you grow, be assured that homegrown is tastier than anything commercially grown.