Vegetable of the Moment: Cucumbers

I don't think I really understood the crisp summer sweetness and diversity of cucumbers until I grew them. Ilana's always been on the cucumber bandwagon, swapping them for chips to eat with guacamole or eating them simply, with salt and lemon juice - but I always thought they were just a flavorless addition to a salad bar, good for sopping up ranch. I didn't even know they were a summer crop, popping out of vines by early July. Now I know that they come right before the tomatoes and stay through the end of the summer season, continuing to produce fruit until you're nearly sick of them. 

I also didn't know about the diverse variety of cukes - from baby gherkins to lemon cucumbers with a creamy yellow flesh. The small bumpy ones are our favorite to work with - they're sweet and juicy and uniquely flavorful. These babies are versatile. 

I've seen a few recipes for grilled or roasted cucumburs but we've had the best luck using them raw: in salads, blended into a green salsa for some freshness, and smashed with garlic and chili oil. If you've ever been to a Szechuan restaurant in summer and had smashed cucumber salad, you probably feel as changed as I do. Smashing cucumbers is also really fun. 

If you're growing cukes at home (of any variety), try to pick them when they're still pretty small - their water content is lower and sweetness is more concentrated. If you're buying at the farmer's market, look for "burpless" (all called "seedless") varieties which have less bitterness in the skin. Salting them for 30 minutes (like you do in the smashed cucumber salad, below) also helps remove some bitterness. 

Here's 3 super simple recipes to get you through cucumber season. Looking to make your cucumber haul last you through the winter? You can pickle them using Ilana's quick pickle recipe

Cucumber, Avocado & Strawberry Salad

Cut cucumbers, strawberries, and avocados into chunks (any size you want). Top with olive oil, crunchy salt, and lots of black pepper. In the later summer season, replace the strawberries with watermelon. 


Smashed Cukes with Chili Oil 

Smash 2 cucumbers into large chunks with a rolling pin on your counter. Toss with 1/2 tsp salt, let sit for 30 minutes to remove water.  Cook 2 tbsp Korean chili flakes (red pepper flakes work too) over low heat in 1/2 cup neutral oil. Cook until the oil turns red (~ 5 min). In a bowl, toss cucumbers with some chili oil, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. Save remaining chili oil & put it on everything!

cucumber chili oil sesame

Kostas's Tzatziki

Kostas is my badass Greek brother-in-law. 

Dice one small cucumber into small cubes (~1/4 inch). Add to 1 cup greek yogurt. You can thin the yogurt with water if you'd like - we added about 1 Tbsp. Using a microplane or garlic press, grate 2-3 garlic cloves and add to the yogurt. 

tzatziki yoghurt cucumber