Cucumbers grow prolifically almost everywhere, which is why they are key in recipes worldwide — from dainty British tea sandwiches, soothing Indian raita and spicy Asian marinades to Greek salads of salty feta and dark greens.
This year’s local cucumbers are early and abundant. When at the farmers market, look for the long, thin European cucumbers (aka English or Lebanese cucumbers) also sold wrapped in plastic in grocery stores. The mid-length, spiny, curved Asian varieties and the mini, seedless Persian cucumbers are also good choices. Crisp, nearly seedless and thin-skinned, these are the most flavorful types of cukes and the easiest to work with. The standard American varieties are often large, watery and in need of peeling and seeding before doing anything else.
Be sure to avoid cucumbers that are limp or soft. An overripe cucumber is watery and bitter.
Cucumbers do not last long, which explains why they’re so often pickled. The best way to store cucumbers is to simply put them on the kitchen counter and be sure to remove any plastic wrapping. They last longer at room temperature because, like tomatoes, cucumbers are sensitive to a cold, moist environment, which speeds up their deterioration. They’re best kept away from bananas, melons and tomatoes, as those fruits emit ethylene, which causes the cucumbers to ripen further and then soften.
A member of the melon family, cucumbers are fabulous tossed with watermelon or cantaloupe, drizzled with lime, lots of chopped mint and finished with a dash of coarsely ground black pepper. Served icy cold, this is a crunchy, cooling, spicy and sweet treat, perfect on a searing summer day.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Cucumber, Tomato, White Bean and Avocado Salad
Serves 4 as an entree, 8 as a side.
Note: With plenty of crunch, body and tang, this simple salad makes a terrific side dish and satisfying meal. The lemon vinaigrette helps the avocado retain its color so the dish can be made a couple of hours ahead. If using the standard American cucumber, it’s best to peel and seed it first. After removing the peel, slice the cucumber horizontally and then use a teaspoon to scrape out and discard the seeds. Many other varieties of cucumbers are seedless. From Beth Dooley.
• Zest and juice from 1 small lemon (about 2 tsp. zest and about 3 tbsp. lemon juice)
• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tsp. ground cumin, to taste
• 1/2 tsp. honey, optional
• Generous pinch salt, to taste
• Generous pinch freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Pinch red pepper flakes, to taste
• 1 1/2 c. cooked or canned cannellini or navy beans, drained
• 8 oz. cucumber, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
• 8 oz. mixed cherry tomatoes, cut in half
• 1/2 c. green onions, white parts, trimmed and sliced
• 1/4 c. chopped cilantro or basil, or mixed
• 1/4 c. chopped parsley
1 ripe avocado, sliced into 1/2-in. pieces
Put the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, cumin and honey into a jar with a lid and shake vigorously. Season with the salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, and shake again.
Put the beans, cucumber, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro and parsley into a large bowl. Drizzle with just enough of the dressing to coat. Gently fold in the avocado. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up 3 hours.
Nutrition information per serving:
Fat 1 g
Sodium 42 mg
Carbohydrates 14 g
Saturated fat 1 g
Added sugars 0 g
Protein 4 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Dietary fiber 6 g