I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with cucumbers during summer:
1. Chilled Cucumber Soup
Chilled Cucumber Soup makes for the perfect amuse-bouche for a party on a hot summer night. Serve this appetizer in tiny espresso cups as an elegant and refreshing start to the meal. For this no-cook recipe, I peel, seed, and chop 2 pounds of cucumbers, adding them to a blender with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground fennel seed. Puree the soup until well combined and smooth in texture, then chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Garnish each serving with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil (makes 6 espresso cups). I like to keep my cucumber soup dairy-free so it can be enjoyed by all.
Cucumbers chopped into sticks are often rolled into maki sushi (a sushi roll) along with avocado and seafood. The fresh, grassy taste and crisp texture of the cucumber is a nice contrast against soft and buttery salmon or meaty tuna. Asian cucumbers are small and very crisp, with less water inside than the ones we’re used to here in the U.S. Seek them out at your local Asian market. If you’ve never attempted sushi at home, check out this step-by-step guide by Morimoto. One of my favorite lunches is a light and fresh California Roll with shrimp.
3. Grilled Cucumber
Charring cucumbers on the grill gives depth to their already sweet and grassy flavor, as well as softening their texture. Chef Paul Berglund’s recipe for Grilled Cucumber and Smoked-Trout Salad with Hazelnuts is a fun change from the same old salads. The grilled cucumbers are dressed in a pungent vinaigrette of garlic, anchovy, cider vinegar, and fresh dill.
4. Cucumber Salad
The recipe for Khiar bel Na’na (cucumber salad with mint) from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, is a great example of the best a cucumber has to offer. Thin slices of cucumber are salted and left to drain in a colander for 30 minutes to an hour. This step relieves the cucumber of fluid, keeping it from watering down the salad. The crisp, sweet and herbal-flavored slices are then tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, a splash of orange-blossom water, and crushed dried mint leaves. This cucumber salad will intrigue your dinner guests with its unique flavor, and goes well with grilled foods.
5. Poached Salmon Garnished with Cucumber
With its vibrant green skin and pale insides, strips of cucumber make for a striking garnish atop the pink flesh of a whole poached salmon. This is a make-ahead dish for serving a crowd. The whole fish goes into a poacher with a flavorful broth to simmer until cooked through, then spends the night refrigerated in its bath. The result is a moist and tender fish to be served on a grand platter at a party or brunch. Strips of cucumber arranged atop the fish as a garnish contribute a stunning visual and fresh flavor. The fish is served with a Cucumber, Cress, and Caper Sauce that’s piquant and cooling, with a touch of sour cream.
6. Soba Salad
Susanna Foo’s Cold Soba Noodles with Lime Coriander Vinaigrette from her book, Fresh Inspiration, is just the kind of meal I’m looking for in the heat of summer. Light and fresh but with plenty of flavor- from nutty sesame seeds to herbal julienned cucumber to earthy soba- it keeps things interesting without weighing you down. The recipe is simple: Toss cooked soba noodles with lime coriander vinaigrette and serve over brightly colored leaves of endive. Julienned cucumber, bean sprouts, cilantro, and sesame seeds are sprinkled over the noodles and it’s time to eat!
Cucumber and Yogurt Salad is popular throughout the Middle East, and is known by many different names, including tzatziki in Greece, cacik in Turkey, and raita in India. Whatever the name, this salad-sauce has universal appeal. Cucumber is shredded and stirred into thick Greek yogurt with fresh garlic and chopped mint or dill. Serve the bright and herbal sauce as a cool accompaniment to grilled lamb and rice, or as an appetizer with pita bread.
8. Sweet-n-Sour Cucumber Relish
It’s not just for hot dogs, ok? Padma Lakshmi’s recipe for Sea Scallops with Crushed Peanuts and Cucumber Relish from her book, Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet, is elegant and full of exotic flavor. Sea scallops are dredged in a flour mixture containing bread crumbs, mango powder, and cayenne, then seared in a hot pan. The rich scallops are topped with a relish of diced cucumber, tomato, brown sugar, dill, and lime juice, then sprinkled with crushed peanuts for a little extra crunch.
9. Cucumber Lime Pops with Gin
I’ll take my cocktail frozen, thank you, and this recipe for Cucumber Lime Pops with Gin is exactly what I need on a blazing hot summer day. A cucumber puree is mixed with lime juice, lime zest, gin, and gelatin (to keep the frozen pop from melting too quickly). Pour the mixture into paper cups and freeze for an hour, then place a popsicle stick into the partially frozen pops and continue freezing until ready to serve.
I can’t do a list on cooking with cucumbers and leave out pickles, can I? Though they’ve been around forever, pickles don’t have to be boring. I consulted the book, Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff and found several interesting recipes. The Persian Tarragon Cucumbers is Iranian recipe in which the cucumbers are placed in a jar with garlic, tarragon, coriander seeds, and chiles, then topped with a vinegar-salt mixture and simply placed in the fridge to cure for 4 weeks. The Bread & Butter Pickles are sweetened with honey and flavored with mustard and red pepper flakes for a more complex, sweet and spicy pickle. Maybe try her Long-Fermented Kosher Dill Pickles, which the author describes as “extraordinary.” Three weeks of fermenting at room temperature gives these pickles a more mellow tang and complex flavor.