What do you do with all those cucumbers?
LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 46. Follow us as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms.
The three vegetables that we most associate with summer are tomatoes, summer squash and cucumbers. We all have neighbors or grandparents who grow mounds of them each summer, bringing fresh produce to every cookout. Because they are so common, we think sometimes the potential of vegetables like these gets overlooked.
Lately, though, people have been celebrating heirloom tomatoes—and how wonderful they can be, eaten with just a touch of salt! If we paid that sort of attention to every overlooked vegetable that we took for granted, the possibilities would be amazing. One of the other veggies on that list — cucumbers — is one that folks often have “too many” of. But there are countless great things to do with them! Cucumbers come in all shapes, sizes and colors.
Many people will tell you the best way to eat a cucumber is to pickle it. At Luckys, we buy white cucumbers from Mark Schicker, and turn them into pickles. We also have purchased Armenian, English and Japanese cucumbers from Guilford College Farm and Screech Owl Greenhouse.
Traditional fermented pickles are really cucumbers on a higher plane. By immersing cucumbers in a saltwater brine, osmosis extracts moisture from the cucumbers and the moisture that comes out undergoes a malolactic fermentation. The salt inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, while the lactic acid creates a sourness that makes our mouths pucker ever so delightfully.
Our pickles are flavored with dill, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, and they are featured on our pickle plate alongside some roasted radishes, crackers and Green Goddess Dressing. We’re also excited to have three different kinds of pickles on our new featured menu — pickled watermelon rind, the above-mentioned dill pickles and zucchini pickles, with a Summer Breeze Gazpacho Jelly by our Summer recipe contest winner Felice Bogus! Be sure to stop by and try some of the many different ways we celebrate this humble vegetable.
Contest Winner! Summer Breeze Gazpacho Jelly (by Felice Bogus), with three kinds of pickles: zucchini, dill, and watermelon, with stoned wheat crackers
One favorite summertime Southern dish is cucumbers with white vinegar, salt and pepper — an answer to a quick pickle. It just has a simplicity and bracing tanginess that reminds us of summer. (And, if avocados are on sale, you can buy some and eat them the same way.) Our cucumber salad is my take on my this simple dish. It’s as easy as can be, and yet it hits every note. On the other end of the spectrum lies our cucumber avocado soup, which is the perfect antidote to a hot summer’s day. It’s deceptively light on the palate, but there’s an extensive array of flavors going on, so you’ll notice different nuances each time you taste it. It’s been our most requested recipe from our seasonal menus over the last five years.
- Cucumbers come from the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, along with melons, squash and pumpkins, and they originated in India.
- They are one of the easiest vegetables to grow at home, and they thrive in both tropical and temperate climates. Some people grow them on fence lines, so the cucumbers grow in the air and won’t rot from sitting on the moist ground.
- Cucumbers, which are over 95% water, are low in calories and rich in B vitamins.
- Cucumbers sometimes get a bad rap for being hard to digest, when actually it’s not the cucumber, but rather the seeds that are hard to digest.
There are three main types of cucumbers:
- Slicing cucumbers are meant to be eaten fresh and are usually uniform in color –long, smooth, and thick-skinned.
- While any cucumber can be pickled, pickling cucumbers, or Kirby cucumbers, work best. They have bumpy, spiny skins, are never waxed, and range in color from pale yellow to dark green.
- Burpless cucumbers are the sweetest type of cucumber. They have thin skins, are easier to digest, and are practically seedless. They can grow up to two feet long.
Some of the most common varieties within each of the three types are:
- English Cucumbers: Usually around 12 inches long, these cucumbers are of the seedless variety, and have a thin, smooth skin.
- Garden Cucumbers: Dark green, with smooth skin, these are the most common cucumber in North America. They usually are waxed, so make sure you peel them first.
- Armenian Cucumbers: Long, thin, and with a thin skin and soft seeds, Armenian cucumbers are ideal for eating raw, not pickling. This is my favorite cucumber, because the tiny seeds are barely there, the skins aren’t tough, and they just look really cool when you prepare them because of their ridged texture.
- Kirby (or Pickling) Cucumbers: Short, oftentimes bumpy, these vary in color from yellow to dark green. They are good to eat raw, but they’re especially ideal for pickling.
- Persian Cucumbers: Similar to English Cucumbers, these are mild in taste. Sometimes bumpy, and with thin skins, they are ideal for eating raw.
Cucumber Storage and Preparation Tips
Whenever you want to use cucumbers as an ingredient (like in our Weaver Tuna Salad), you should chop them up, salt them, let them sit for about 30 minutes, and then rinse the salt off. Because cucumbers are so watery, the salt helps draw the excess water out so your dish won’t get waterlogged when you combine the cucumbers with your other ingredients.
Store cucumbers in your refrigerator. If they are kept at room temperature for too long, they’ll start to wilt and lose their wonderful crunch.
For more on pickling, check out our previous post.
Looking for more? We recommend Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation.
Cucumber Avocado Soup
- 1½ cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- ¼ red onion, diced
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 avocados, peeled and pitted
- 1¾ cup buttermilk
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ¾ tbsp salt (or to taste)
- ½ cup cold water
- ¼ tsp ground white pepper (or to taste)
- ½ cup sour cream
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and puree with an immersion blender on low speed. When mixture begins to become liquid, increase speed on blender until liquefied.
Makes 1 gallon
Recipe: Weaver Tuna Salad
Another way to use those cucumbers is in our Weaver Tuna Salad. This dish is named for Mike Weaver, a founding partner of Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels and an amazing man in his own right. This is one of only a handful of dishes that have been on Lucky 32’s menu since day one.
- ¼ cup diced cucumbers
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 6 oz can chunk white Albacore tuna
- 1/3 cup Lemon-Mustard Vinaigrette Dressing (see recipe below)
- pepper to taste
Mix together cucumbers and salt; allow to sit for ten minutes. Pour off liquid and combine cucumbers with remaining ingredients.
Makes 1 cup
Recipe: Lemon Mustard Vinaigrette Dressing
- 1½ tbsp water
- 2/3 cup Gulden’s Mustard
- 1 ½ tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 ½ tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup canola oil
In a mixing bowl, combine water, mustard, vinegar and lemon juice. Whisk until well blended. Slowly pour oil into the mixing bowl while whisking till well emulsified.
Makes 2 cups
Herbed Cucumber Sauce
This sauce is sort of our take on Tzatziki. It was a very popular fish topping when the menu was arrayed a bit differently. Now we use it to balance the Voodoo Sauce on our Bayou Shrimp Cakes plate, where all of the elements are brought into harmony by the wonderful herbed cucumber sauce.
- 2 cucumbers
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 cup plain yogurt
- 1 tbsp garlic, whole, peeled and chopped
- 3½ tsp lemon juice
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 6 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
Peel and slice cucumbers lengthwise. Remove seeds and dice. Toss with salt and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Pour off accumulated liquid. Combine cucumbers with remaining ingredients; mix well.
Makes 3 cups
For more about our seasonal recipes, see our current menu at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and our Blog Recipe Index: http://lucky32southernkitchen.com/recipes/