Admiring An Underrated Vegetable
Since I moved this spring, I haven’t had a place to grow vegetables, but fortunately I am blessed with friends who do. I was recently given a basket of mixed cucumbers in various sizes and shapes and colors. I’m thrilled, because cucumbers are among my favorite snack foods and the basis of some delightful salads. When fresh and crisp, the flavors emerge as slightly bitter and slightly sweet, more earthy in some types, faintly floral in others. Easily over powered by heavy dressings, cucumbers carry subtle dressings to perfection. When just picked, most of my family will happily munch them plain, but I prefer them thinly sliced with just a dash of rice vinegar and a sprinkle of sea salt.
I like crunch in my salads and fresh cucumbers provide that crisp element however you slice them. For a Middle Eastern meal, cut cukes in wedges and toss them with cherry tomatoes, a little sweet onion, and a refreshing dressing of Greek yogurt, minced mint and green onions. For an Italian side, cut them in slim slices and toss with a garlic and basil vinaigrette. Top grilled fish or fowl with chopped cucumbers with dill and lemon juice or a quick salsa of cucumbers, peppers, onion and roasted peaches.
Not tempted? Here’s the rap on using cu-CUM-ba in Jamaica:
I collect old cookbooks, especially those from pioneer days and around the turn of the last century. Many of them include recipes for cooking with cucumbers, mainly because back in the day, very little excepting fruit was eaten raw. Even what was then called a salad often involved combinations of cooked vegetables blended with mayonnaise or sauces. In Italy, Russian Salad or Insalata Russa, a form of potato salad enlivened with capers, remains popular even though raw salads now abound. Most of the old recipes I tried were pretty awful, notably baked and stewed cucumbers, but this adapted version of fried cukes and green tomatoes is very tasty indeed.
Fried Green Tomatoes And Cucumbers
2 large green tomatoes
1 large cucumber, peeled
1/4 cup whole wheat or any flour
2 tablespoons yellow corn meal
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 large eggs, well whisked
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Slice tomatoes and cucumber into 1/4 inch slices, set aside. In a pie dish, combine flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper. Whisk egg in another pie dish. Dredge vegetable slices in flour mixture, dip into egg, then return to flour mixture to cover well. In a heavy iron skillet, heat half the oil and butter over medium high heat and fry half the slices, not crowding the pan, until well browned, about 4-6 minute per side. Replenish pan with remaining oil and butter and repeat with remaining slices. Serve hot. Serves at least one.
Peach And Cucumber Salsa
Next time you fire up the grill, roast a bunch of halved peaches on the side. They freeze beautifully and add remarkable savor and depth to dressings and sauces as well as this addictive salsa.
Roasted Peach And Cucumber Salsa
1 cup chopped roasted peaches (about 2 halves)
1 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped sweet mini peppers
1 ancho or any hot pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Combine all ingredients, toss gently and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with chips or with anything grilled, also makes fabulous dressing for green salad. Makes about 3 cups.
Cucumber Salad With Mushrooms
Vinegar softens cucumbers and turns mushrooms to velvet. Spoon this refreshing salad over cooked rice or partner it with roasted or grilled anything.
Cucumber Mushroom Velvet Salad
2 cups thinly sliced cucumber (1 medium)
1 cup thinly sliced stemmed mushrooms (2 large)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup stemmed Italian parsley
Cover sliced cukes and mushrooms with 1 cup ice water to which you have added salt, gently stirring to dissolve. Let sit for 15 minutes, drain well, pat dry and gently toss with oil and vinegar. Serve at once, sprinkled with parsley. Serves 4-6.