Let me count the ways. I’m talking about summertime-in-their-prime cucumbers – the midwinter hot house variety are another story. It’s not rocket science that they should be superb right now, summer is their moment. I’ve eaten them like a mad woman this summer, starting with the ones Poppy brought along on our road trip in July which were from Mair Taki Produce. We ate them whole, skin on, right out of the cooler. I’ve had this thing for cukes ever since.
We just got back from a 14-day raft trip down the Colorado River and the first thing I did – after grazing for tomatoes and buying coffee beans and trying to get my hair clean! – was get myself some local cucumbers. Nash’s are available at local PCCs, and Farmers Markets have an abundance. Cucumbers for lunch with tuna salad and garden tomatoes got me going on a week-long cucumber marathon, because we actually like them that much and their true season is now.
#1. Cucumbers in Vinegar
In summertime my grandmother always, and I mean always, had a bowl of sliced fresh cucumbers from her garden on the dinner table, soaking in copious amounts of apple cider vinegar along with a few sliced onions for good measure. Seasoned with black pepper. I took a bowl of these to a party a few weeks ago and people went crazy for them. It was a little embarrassing since I’d slaved over this dish for maybe four minutes.
Lightly peeled and thinly sliced cucumber, a few thin slices of onion, rice vinegar to cover, a pinch of salt & pepper. (Use apple cider vinegar, or any vinegar you like.) Let it sit for ten minutes or ten hours. Cut it with a tablespoon of water and even a pinch of sugar if the vinegar’s too potent for you.
But that’s exactly why my grandmother loved apple cider vinegar, that it’s sour. She proclaimed its health benefits until the day she died at 100 and doused most of her vegetables with it. (Though the day before, as I recall, she was licking ginger snap cookie dough off the spoon.)
#2. Cool Cucumber Soup
I found a recipe for Turkish cucumber and mint soup in the August Sunset magazine, but didn’t have Aleppo pepper to make it authentically Turkish. This is an altered version using spicy chipotle instead. Delicious. In my mind, it’s souped up raita (recipe follows).
Cucumber soup with mint & dill: Blend 3 cucumbers (peeled, seeded and cut into chunks), 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced, 1/4 C lemon juice, 2 T olive oil, 1 C plain yogurt until smooth/ Pour blended mixture into a bowl and nest into a larger bowl of ice water – stir often until chilled, about 15 minutes/ Mix in an additional 1/2 – 1 C yogurt and 1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper, adjusting amount according to taste/ Or 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper if you have it. You could also grind your own dried chiles or add finely chopped fresh to taste/ Just before serving stir in 1/4 C chopped mint and 1 T chopped, fresh dill. Garnish with thinly sliced cucumbers.
New for us, we loved this with grilled, spicy chicken.
#3. Cucumber Raita
There’s been plenty of this raita on the table this summer, along with pita and hummus and olives. In the summertime with fresh fruit this might be a meal. Grill the pita for a couple of minutes on each side and slice into quarters.
Raita: Place 1 C plain yogurt in a fine sieve (paper coffee filters work well as does cheesecloth) suspended over a large bowl and allow to drain some of its liquid for 30 minutes or longer/ Similarly, place 3 – 4 cups of halved (lengthwise), seeded, sliced and liberally salted cucumbers in a sieve over another large bowl and allow to sit for 30 minutes or longer, which will extract some of cucumber’s excess liquid/ While yogurt and cucumbers are draining, finely chop 1 or 2 cloves of garlic and place in another bowl along with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice/ Combine drained yogurt with thoroughly rinsed and drained cucumbers in the bowl with lemon juice and garlic/ Add 1 teaspoon each of cumin and fresh dill (more if you like), and a tablespoon of sour cream – chopped scallions would be good too/Stir together and chill for an hour or more.
Grate the cucumbers if you prefer – it makes a smoother raita and one that’s even more compatible with pita bread. Or, garlic naan. Num. It’s great with fish or chicken and a wonderful counterpoint to hot/spicy foods. Raita is recognized as a familiar part of Indian cuisine, though many cultures have their own versions and recipes vary.
#4. Cucumbers, Fennel & Feta
The vinegared cucumbers (#1 above), marinated for a while, drained and tossed with cubes of feta cheese, thinly sliced fennel, drizzled with olive oil and a little of the marinade. Just that. Or, place cukes and feta on greens, sprinkle with some of the vinegar marinade along with olive oil for a heftier salad. Add Greek olives, tomatoes and red pepper, fresh dill for a Greek salad.