We are finally getting to that point in the summer when it seems like we have more fresh, tasty produce than we know what to do with. At this time of year, everyone rhapsodizes about tomatoes, and of course, nothing can beat a fresh tomato straight out of the garden. But I want to recognize another summer favorite: the cucumber.
Most of the year, I avoid eating cucumbers, because I find them bland, mushy and generally without personality. But when I started growing my own cucumbers, I discovered that fresh-picked cucumbers are subtly sweet and snappy. (If you don’t have a garden, cucumbers should be abundant at the farmers market about now.)
To bring out their best flavor, I try to choose cucumbers that are still fairly small. I cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out most of the seeds with a spoon. Then I slice them into rounds or sticks and sprinkle them with coarse salt. Let them sit for few minutes in a colander and drain off any excess liquid. They make a terrific snack just by themselves.
I have two favorite ways of dressing up cucumbers. Almost everyone likes pickles, so I like to reproduce that flavor by quickly marinating cucumbers. These slices make a great appetizer or a side for grilled foods.
Combine 3 cups of thinly sliced cucumbers with 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, the grated zest and juice of 1 lime, and salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer some sweet with your sour, add 1 teaspoon sugar. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Just before serving, add 2 tablespoons fresh dill or basil, minced, and toss gently.
This simple salad is just a starting point, and it is amenable to all sorts of additions. Some of my favorites include thinly sliced red onion, minced jalapeno, diced avocado or tomato wedges.
A creamy cucumber salad is another way to showcase this vegetable. This recipe is similar to an Indian condiment called raita, used to cool spicy foods. Either eat this as a side salad, or dice the cucumbers and use it as a dip or as a condiment for fish, grilled chicken and even burgers.
Slice or dice 1 medium cucumber. Combine it with ¾ cup plain yogurt (or substitute sour cream, if yogurt isn’t to your taste). Stir in 1 small minced garlic clove, 1 tablespoon olive oil and the leaves from 2 mint sprigs, thinly sliced. For a little spice, you could add a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes.
Enjoy those veggies!