In summers, especially in seasons from May to October, the one thing that cannot be missed out is plentiful of cucumbers. Although these juicy and versatile fruits are available year-round, much of it is needed and cherished in the heat of summers. Yet, there is a whole world of cucumber goodness out there, and only less time to explore it all.
Look for firm, vibrantly green fruit without wrinkles. Smaller ridged cucumbers differ little in taste to the more common smooth variety.
Store fresh cucumbers in the fridge for up to one week. Small examples, or sliced cucumbers can be pickled very successfully: pickled cucumbers are also known as gherkins or cornichons.
To get the best out of them, here are two refreshing recipes made of cucumbers:
Cucumber soup with pickled cucumber
Got a glut of cucumbers? Try pickling them as a delicious addition to burgers or sandwiches, or whizz them up into this spicy take on cucumber soup, topped with sweet-and-sour cucumbers.
For the pickled cucumber: A cucumber, a tbsp salt, 75ml rice vinegar, 2 tbsp caster sugar, a deseeded and finely sliced red chilli, 2 tsp coriander seeds toasted in a dry frying pan and lightly crushed, a tbsp finely chopped fresh mint leaves, a tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander leaves, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
For the cucumber soup: a tbsp olive oil, 2 finely diced banana shallots, a finely diced garlic clove, 2.5cm/1inch piece grated fresh root ginger, a chopped red chilli, 1.2kg lengthways halved, deseeded and roughly chopped cucumbers, 500ml vegetable stock, salt and freshly ground black pepper, ½ lemon's juice, 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
For the pickled cucumber, peel alternate lengths of cucumber, so that it has a stripy skin. Cut it in half lengthways, scoop out seeds with a spoon and slice flesh thinly on the diagonal. Place the slices into a bowl with salt and mix well. Set aside for 30 minutes.
When marinated, heat vinegar and sugar in a non-reactive saucepan until sugar dissolves. Rinse salt from the slices, transfer them to a clean tea towel and squeeze any excess water from them. Add the slices to vinegar mixture and stir until well combined. Stir in chilli and coriander seeds. Cover saucepan with cling film and set aside until needed.
For the cucumber soup, heat oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Fry shallots, garlic, ginger and chilli for 2-3 minutes. Add cucumber and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add stock and bring to boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Transfer soup to a food processor and blend until smooth, then return to saucepan. Season, to taste, with salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon juice.
Just before serving, stir mint and coriander into pickled cucumbers and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper. To serve, drizzle a little olive oil over soup and garnish with pickled cucumber.
Super green dream drink
Cucumber, apple and ginger drink is really refreshing and a change from boring old squash. Serve with lots of ice.
Grate half a cucumber into a bowl, making sure you catch all the juice. Stir in a tsp of grated root ginger, 400ml apple juice and half a lime's juice. Sieve the mixture into a jug, pressing down on the pulp to extract as much juice as possible. Pour into two tall glasses.
Another pleasant way to enjoy cucumber is in tzatziki. This cucumber and yogurt dip, a staple in many Greek restaurants, makes a great appetizer or accompaniment to grilled meat and fish in a summer barbeque.
For creamy Tzatziki with perfect consistency you need to avoid any excess water. This is best achieved by peeling and de-seeding the cucumber. Then either grate of finely slice, with a vegetable peeler, and hang the cucumber in a cloth or a tea towel to squeeze out all excess liquid.
Combine 350g full-fat yogurt with 2 large cucumbers that have been grated and drained of water. Add 2tbsp of lemon juice and 4 cloves of crushed garlic to the yogurt mix and then add a dash of olive oil and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Sprinkle with ½ tsp of paprika powder and then, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours for the flavors to fully develop. Just before serving roughly chop a bunch of fresh mint leaves and sprinkle on top.
Composed primarily of water, cucumbers are good sources of vitamins A and C and folic acid and the skin is rich in fiber and holds a variety of minerals, such as silica, which helps strengthen our connective tissues.
The ascorbic acid and caffeic acid in cucumbers prevent water retention, which explains why a few slices placed upon your eyes can relieve swollen eyes or soothe burns and skin irritations.
Cucumbers also make great little vessels for fillings like cottage cheese, quark or humus and you can even enjoy it with vegetable crudités or with tasty feta fritters.
Also, for a simple salad to zing up main dishes, cucumber sliced with tomatoes and red onion and drizzled with balsamic vinegar takes only minutes to make.
If you fancy an afternoon tea-style sandwich, cucumber with the skin removed on whole-meal finger sandwiches makes a tasty treat.