One result of this summer’s heat wave is an abundance of fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market, with some items actually ready a few weeks earlier than usual. Because many crops are currently at their peak flavor, it is tempting to go the market and snatch up more than you can carry, store, or cook with (or is that just me?).
However, the heat necessitates staying focused: pick up too many ingredients and they’ll spoil before you have time to cook them all; pick up ingredients that are more labor intensive and you’ll heat up your kitchen so quickly that it’ll be impossible to tell the difference between inside and outside.
So for these July days of summer, we have a slight dilemma. On one hand, you want to take advantage of the peak fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much time in a hot kitchen. This is where cucumbers come in. With very little work cucumbers yield a refreshing appetizer, soup, or entree. There’s a reason the phrase “cool as a cucumber” is used so frequently: cucumbers are nearly 90% water! Besides, don’t you want to feel ‘cool’ this summer? (If you really are too hot and lethargic to cook with them, remember—cucumbers are good for the skin. Place them over your eyes for a refreshing moment).
Cucumbers originated in India millennia ago and were first cultivated in North America in the 16th century. They’re classified as fruits—the same family as melons—but are usually prepared and eaten as a vegetable.
Despite what a standard grocery store may have you believe, there are a plethora of varieties and shapes of cucumbers: yellows, greens, 20 inches long, round, etc.
Cucumbers grow to be eaten fresh and for pickling. In the U.S., pickled cucumbers are simply ‘pickles’. In Britain, they’re known as ‘gherkins’.
Due to their high water content, cucumbers are cool and refreshing, tasting like a diluted melon. Some find the rind to be slightly bitter.
In the Kitchen:
Pick cucumber that are heavy and firm. Avoid cucumbers that have soft ends. Don’t leave cucumbers out in room temperature for too long, as they have a tendency to wilt and become mushy. When storing, put cucumbers in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator (but NOT in the coldest part of the fridge).
If your recipe asks you to seed them, simply slice them lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cucumbers pair well with dill, butter, yogurt, and cheese.
Cucumbers have a long growing season—usually over 60 days. They are sensitive to both frost and too much rain.
Farmers and gardeners are advised to plant them in warm soil and, if possible, on hills so that the vines can grow. The plants need continual moisture in order to keep growing. When ready, they are harvested every 2-3 days in the summer.
Weather and farm dependent, they’re available from the end of May to the end of July.
Cold Avocado and Cucumber Soup with Dill
Michel Nischan’s Cucumber, Bush Bean, and Tomato Salad w/Feta
- 8 ounces pole or bush beans
- 3 cucumbers
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces feta cheese
- 3 large tomatoes
- 2-3 tablespoons oregano leaves
- 1/2 cup loosley packed, thinly sliced basil leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- black pepper
- 3 tablespoons malt vinegar
- Fill a large sauce pan with water and bring to a boil. Add salt. Add the beans and blanch for a minute. Drain the beans and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. Pat the beans with towels, cut them in half crosswise, and refrigerate until chilled.
- Peel the cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise, and seed. Cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes. Chill the cucumbers with the onion slices.
- Use a fork to break the feta into chunks.
- Core the tomatoes and cut in 1 1/2 inch chunks. In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes with the feta cheese. Add the oregano, basil, chilled beans, cucumbers, and onion slices.
- Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and gently toss.