As the last days of summer close in and shadows lengthen, the more time I can spend in the sun outdoors, the better!
For dinners, cooking this time of year is simple, based on whatever is in the garden or from the market. We sizzle everything we can on the grill and try to keep indoor prep to a minimum. No vegetable is better suited than cucumbers to the task of refreshing our heat-weary palates.
Thanks to our local farmers, we’re seeing more and more cucumber varieties around this time each year. Though quite similar in flavor, the textures vary, making some better for salads and others best pickled. Here’s what you’ll find in the markets these days:
Armenian cucumbers are the long, thin, variegated light green cukes, with a superior crunch and a thin skin. They don’t need to be peeled or seeded, and are not for pickling, as their tender skin turns to mush.
English cucumbers, aka hothouse cucumbers, are sold in grocery stores wrapped in plastic, but you’ll find them field-fresh and unwrapped at farmers markets. With their very mild flavor, thin skins and minimal seeds, these are best eaten raw, not pickled.
Garden cucumbers, the most common variety, have tougher skins and big watery seeds so are best seeded before slicing.
Gherkins are small (under 2 inches), firm, with few seeds, and perfect for pickles or in French, cornichons, to accompany pâté.
Kirby cucumbers are those stubby, bumpy cucumbers with lots of flavor, great for eating raw and pickling. They’re also known as “pickling cucumbers.”
Lemon cucumbers look like lemons and pack a tangy citrus crunch. They’re delicious raw and in pickles, too.
Persian cucumbers resemble English cukes but come in a wide range of lengths and shapes. Mild, crunchy, thin-skinned and nearly seedless, they’re terrific for salads and pickles, too.
Fast-growing cucumbers have adapted to nearly all climates and figure into a range of dishes around the world. In India, they’re shredded, mixed with yogurt and spices for a cooling raita to accompany curry. Mexican street vendors toss cucumbers with melons and chiles to serve in paper cones. In Greece, they’re drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with feta.
Asian cucumber salads balance cucumbers’ cool, juicy character with salt and heat and a touch of sweet. Simple, versatile cucumber salads defy definition — try them on top of bruschetta, to garnish hummus, and spark grilled chicken, salmon and lamb.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.