In honor of Farmer’s Market Friday, I chose cucumbers as today’s featured ingredient. Cucumbers are incredibly plentiful this time of year, and by the end of summer many cooks are screaming “I just cannot make another pickle!” I get it, truly I do. However, there is just nothing that cools in the heat of summer quite the way cukes do.
Technically, a cucumber is a fruit. It grows as the product of a flower, and has flesh surrounding the reproductive seeds. However, I’m not about splitting hairs here, so since most of the world calls it a vegetable, so will I. Plus, my son needs as many foods in the “veggie” column as possible.
Cucumbers are gourds, in the same family with melons and squashes. Cukes are the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable in the world. (Tomatoes, cabbage, and onions are the first three.) Containing an abundance of water, cukes also are a good source of Vitamin K, and the polyphenols and nutrients in the cucumber have shown to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Sliced cucumbers, placed over closed eyelids help reduce swelling, inflammation, and brighten delicate skin. Instant spa.
Typically eaten raw, pickled, or in salads, cucumbers add a fresh cool element to any food. They are excellent palate cleansers. Cucumber slices added to a pitcher of water, along with a squeeze of lemon or lime and some mint makes a lightly flavored but highly addicting beverage. I usually prepare pitchers of cucumber water the night before I really want to drink it, so that the flavor infuses. Slice or chunk the cucumbers and add to a pitcher, along with some lightly bruised mint leaves. Add water and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, strain out the chunks and mint, and add a squeeze of lemon or lime. If omitting the mint, slice the cucumbers and leave them in the pitcher. So pretty, and it makes it much easier for me to get my 8 glasses of water with this drink.
The cucumber sandwich is also a delicious little treat that calls to mind tea parties and social events. Very thinly sliced crustless bread is covered with a thin coating of butter to protect against getting soggy and then topped with delicately sliced cucumbers. Use your mandolin, or a vegetable peeler lengthwise to make cucumber “ribbons” for the bread. Variations include using softened cream cheese (with or without herbs) in place of the butter, and changing from white bread to flavors of wheat, rye, or pumpernickel.
Add cucumbers to homemade salsa or pico de gallo, blend into gazpacho, toss with red onion, cherry tomato, olive oil, and feta cheese for a fast lunch. Fresh cukes add a delicious crunch, and their mild taste marries well with other fruits and vegetables. Summertime adult beverages like the mojito and martini get a light fresh twist with the addition of cucumber.
Cucumbers are available year round, and different versions (hello Persian!) have made themselves available in grocery stores. However, for my money, there’s nothing like a fresh, farm-grown cucumber at the height of the season. They are plentiful at farmer’s markets right now, so get ’em while they’re… cool.