Cucumber cool - so many ways


"Cucumbers have come to a special glory in recent years. Partly it is the result of being able to buy them round the 12 months. Even more it is the experience of travel and immigration that has opened our eyes to the cucumber's possibilities."

Jane Grigson


I'm pretty sure I've done cucumbers before, but my gardening friend has given me three - two long and one medium sized that I know will go off if I don't do something with them. Indeed I may well be too late because I have been busy with other things since Tuesday when I was given them.


So once again I perused my library and the net to see what I could do with them which wasn't a salad. Not that there is anything wrong with salad, and there are zillions of recipes out there for gorgeous looking salads that incorporate cucumber. No I was looking for something different - hopefully something that would last for a while.


Before I get on to what I found - and I found a lot - did you know that cucumbers, cool though they are, do not respond to chilling in a fridge all that well? And it's not the plastic they come wrapped in if you buy them in the supermarket. That may actually help preserve them in fact. No:


"Research at American university, UC Davis, shows that cucumbers will actually last longer if stored at room temperature. Cucumbers, like tomatoes, are very sensitive to cool temperatures, which speeds up their deterioration."


They apparently like 12-15 degrees, which doesn't help at the moment. It's hot, hot, hot. So if it is hot then put them in the vegetable keeper. If they freeze at all they're done. Throw them away. Which I actually often have to do. And they don't like being next to tomatoes either, so I have sinned both ways. I like cucumber. David loves cucumber, but somehow I forget about it and it stays in the fridge gently rotting away. So I hope I haven't done the same to my Tuesday gift.


Jane Grigson wrote those words at the top of the page in 1978 in her Vegetable Book, some forty years ago now and they are even more relevant today. Or rather the immigrant thing has meant that immigrant food has not only influenced our everyday food, but today's celebrity chefs and the general celebrity food vibe has directed our (by our I mean anglo world) attention to what others in the world eat. We actively seek out inspiration for making what we eat more interesting. Sushi, falafel, hummus, pasta, kimchi et al. are ubiquitous. So looking at what Jane Grigson offers you will find a lot of European dishes, such as Russian cucumber and sorrel soup or Poulet aux concombres, a touch of Middle-Eastern, olde classical English and 70s food like Cucumber mousse (nobody makes mousse anymore), but not a lot of Asian. Today, the best source for ideas that I found was 77 cool cucumber recipes we're very into from Bon Appétit. Yes probably half of them were salads, but beautiful salads, and there were a whole lot of other things as well - see below: Charred cabbage with goat cheese raita and cucumbers, Cucumber lime paletas, Strawberry cucumber ice pops, Cucumber granita, Quick Aleppo dill peppers, Classic dill pickles, Charred peppers with lemon ricotta and cucumbers, Cucumber raita with black mustard and cilantro, and Spicy lightly pickled cucumbers.


I thought about serving the charred pepper salad with the pizza we are having for dinner, but I haven't got any ricotta or Aleppo peppers, although I might be able to substitute perhaps. WE've been to the shops once already today, so I'm not about to go there again. I have some feta, though I suspect it's past it's best. and ordinary chilli flakes might do. Still a possibility perhaps.


With respect to the strawberry and cucumber icy poles I actually saw a lot of recipes for strawberries and cucumber - well a few. Several people offered strawberry and cucumber sandwiches or stacks, and High Fearnley-Whittingstall had a salad:


"A thinly sliced cucumber and strawberry salad is another rather brilliant idea, especially if you dress the fruit with a delicate vinaigrette, trickle with a whisper of honey and strew with shredded basil or mint." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall


Alas I don't have any strawberries either.


The Bon appétit list also included various drinks which I have ignored really - lots of others had some too. They varied from a slice of cucumber in water, to cocktails and smoothies. And Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a word to say about the classic - a PImms.


"let's reconsider their flavour. Subtle, yes, but also distinctive, sophisticated and quite pervasive. It's amazing how a few strips of cucumber peel inveigle their gently pleasing scent past the oranges, strawberries and even the mint to create that delicious top note in a glass of well-made Pimm's." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall


When we went to our very expensive meal at Vue de Monde, several years ago now, the highlight of the meal for me was the cucumber sorbet they served between courses, and I found two recipes online - there are probably more: one from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and one from a website called The Little Epicurean. Now I might try that.

Pickles are really the answer though aren't they, so I might try the classic dill pickles from Bon Appétit or maybe just do some more of Jamie's - if I can find the recipe. There are plenty to choose from anyway. And still on pickles and to bring this fully into 2021 and not 1978 why not try Smacked cucumber with chilli oil or Easy cucumber kimchi - both from Pickled Plum. The kimchi, of course, includes gochujang. The 'smacked' cucumber is a Chinese dish and the kimchi of course is Korean.

I'll end with Nigel Slater who has taken of late to giving his recipe titles as just a list of the ingredients. Hence Orrechiette with dill and cucumber, which relies on the contrast of hot pasta and cold cucumber. I've never been tempted by cooked cucumber I have to say but I could just try that, or Chorizo, new potatoes and cucumber. Now that is cooked cucumber but it looks quite tempting. He says you can use ordinary sausages, which I would have to do because of David's aversion to chilli.

I'm fasting tomorrow, but Monday is going to be extremely hot, so I will indeed do a salad, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has the perfect answer in his River Cottage A-Z book. Alas no picture or recipe online, but basically it's cucumber, smoked mackerel (or trout or salmon) and baby spinach with a dressing which consists of yoghurt, mustard, cider vinegar, dill, sugar, salt and pepper and the whole garnished with lemon zest, dill and a bit of the dressing.


As I say I think I have done cucumbers before and searched extensively for ideas, but since whenever that was, it seems to me that the ideas have become even more creative and more eclectic. And cucumber is one of those things that one should eat more of. So cool, so crunchy, so somehow magic. The salad at the head of Bon Appétit's wonderful list of possibilities, sort of sums it all up really. It's a fattoush called Fattoush with Queso Fresco and has a score of 5 out of 5 in its rating system. Not many have that top score. Queso Fresco is a Mexican cheese similar to ricotta etc. So it's a mix of Middle-eastern - pita, lots of herbs and za'atar and Mexican - Queso Fresco, and tomatoes.


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