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Cucumber 101: Three Summer-Friendly Recipes

Cucumber and Grapefruit Salad
Cucumber and Grapefruit Salad
Andy Broder

I grew up in a house where salad always meant iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, and cucumber. I assumed that salads everywhere were the same. When a friend in high school asked me what I'd just sliced into the salad, I thought he was kidding. How could he not know what a cucumber looked like? Despite their ubiquity in the produce aisle, I'm not sure that very many people buy cucumbers. The big question is not why; it's why not...

See Also: AndyTalk: The Celery Conundrum AndyTalk: Four Riffs on Caprese Salad

Cucumbers add a light, refreshing flavor to salads, and they're crisp. In a world where everyone's looking for crunch, they're often the perfect choice. Cucumbers are the celery of Middle Eastern cookery -- adding taste, color, and texture to tabouli, falafel-stuffed pita, and Greek salads. There are only a couple of rules I loosely follow when adding cucumbers to a recipe.

Tuna Salad with Cucumber, Orange, and Red Walnuts
Tuna Salad with Cucumber, Orange, and Red Walnuts
Andy Broder

First, I always peel standard-issue, dark green cucumbers. They're often waxed, and I don't want to eat the wax, plus the skin has a tendency to be bitter. I usually seed those cucumbers as well, because the seeds are big and surrounded by watery (soggy) flesh. Second, I neither peel nor seed English cucumbers, commonly called hothouse cucumbers, because the skin is thin, generally unwaxed, and seeds are small. Last, cucumbers get weepy, so rather than make a watery mess of things I think of them as a last-minute ingredient. If I make a cucumber salad a little ahead, I drain off any water that accumulates before adding the dressing at the last possible minute.

I use cucumber for crunch in my tuna salad. Some orange segments, chopped onion and walnuts, plus a little salt and pepper round out my recipe. I use tuna packed in olive oil, so there's no mayo in my tuna salad -- but you could add dollop. I tend to eat my tuna as a sort of dip on potato chips, but as a sandwich or on top of half an avocado it's a pretty good option.  

Tzatziki (Cucumber and Yogurt Salad with Mint)
Tzatziki (Cucumber and Yogurt Salad with Mint)
Andy Broder

Tzatziki (spelled many ways) has roots in the Mediterranean, from Greece through the Middle East, and then in the northern parts of Africa. Sometimes it's a dressing and sometimes a salad. I like to combine thinly sliced English cucumber, yogurt, a mere teaspoon of honey, salt and pepper. At the last minute, I add some chopped fresh mint. I serve it as a stand-alone salad, but I also use it on fish tacos.  

Cucumber Water
Cucumber Water
Andy Broder

The combination of cucumber, red grapefruit, and a little onion, tossed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper is a quick crunchy salad that I make in some form or other during the warmest half of the year. Cucumber is refreshing, and it clears your palate, so it's a naturally good side for spicy food.

Chilled cucumber water is hands-down, the most refreshing thing you can drink on a hot day. I like to put sliced cucumber in water instead of (or in addition to) lemon. Ideally I put the slices into room temperature water and let them steep for 15 minutes. Then I add the ice. If you're in a hurry you can muddle the cucumber slices in the bottom of the pitcher and then add ice water. A sprig of mint makes it even better.

Somehow adding cucumber to water doesn't seem like it deserves full recipe status. It may be just half a recipe, but it rates a place at any summer table.

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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