by Kate Heyhoe
When I think of summer, I think Cucumbers. Cool, chilled, crunchy, crisp cucumbers.
This summer we've been feasting on cucumbers. A local farmer set up a little stand in the middle of our small mountain town. Together, he and his dog, a mixed breed looking a bit like Astor with a greying muzzle, sit under an umbrella and, from a rickety folding table, sell only a few items—all priced at the egalitarian rate of three for a buck -- mix and match. He's got plump, red, ripe-from-the-vine tomatoes; picked-that-morning sweet corn (over which he drapes a dampened white towel for freshness); lemons the size of baseballs, and mild, white onions the size of small melons. And of course, he has cucumbers.
Unfortunately, these are waxed cucumbers. Which means we have to peel them, although the interior flesh is lovely. It is so hard these days to find cucumbers free of their wax preservative. When we lived in Los Angeles, I would go to K-Town and J-Town (Korea and Japan towns) regularly for the lovely, small Japanese cucumbers which are sold unwaxed. They have slight ridges and a delicate sweet flavor, with thin skins, tiny seeds and a diameter about the size of a quarter. Oooooooh! They are perfect.
Cucumbers are believed to have originated in India or Thailand, where they were discovered at the 'Spirit Cave' dating as far back as 9750 BC, and were introduced to England in 1573. The Greeks and Romans adored cucumbers, and the French grew them under cover so as to serve them as early as April to Louis IX. They are now cultivated around the world, especially in Asia, and hence pop up in numerous cuisines. Next time you find yourself with a plethora of cucumbers, here's a few international ideas of what to do with them:
Cucumbers even make people feel good. For hundreds of years, women have been putting them on their eyes to reduce puffiness, or using them as a skin tonic or bathing in them. I once went to a Japanese spa where the treatment included shiatsu massage, sauna and a body rub in which I was first slathered with pulverized cucumbers, then milk and honey. Refreshing as it may have been, I have to admit: I prefer eating my cucumbers (and my milk and my honey) to wallowing in them.
One of the most appealing things about cucumbers in the culinary sense is that they add instant elegance. They are like a good accessory -- a unique necklace, a stunning belt, an artistic tie—that pulls all the other elements together harmoniously and brings about a balance to the whole. Think about it: what would a Greek salad be without cucumbers? Or a Southern picnic without a traditional cucumber and tomato salad. Or gazpacho on a hot day, sans cucumbers?
So, with our local produce stand so handy, I've been whipping up a mess a' cucumber dishes. Sometimes I mix them with those plump, juicy tomatoes in a salad or on a sandwich, in pita bread with cheese and yogurt. Othertimes I lightly saute them with a bit of of butter, white pepper and a hint of lemony cardamom, which makes a lovely side dish for fish. I've got endless recipes for them, but here's a few that are especially well-suited to the August heat waves. Perfect foods, for staying kewl as a cucumber!
Copyright 1996, Katherine Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
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