Pickle them, place them over eyelids, turn them into a bright salad dressing, or sandwich them between two slices of bread for an afternoon snack. Cucumbers are the earth’s versatile, fresh, and nutritious gift in the summertime. They fall into the same family as gourds and other vine-grown vegetables, like squash, zucchini, and melons. Even when looking at just cucumbers, many varieties are available.
Dark green and thicker than some of their counterparts, slicing cucumbers come at a lower cost, but have the drawback of an overabundance of seeds. Pickling cucumbers are a bit smaller and tougher than other varieties, holding up well during the pickling process.
If the seeds are an issue, consider an English cucumber. This variety is longer, thinner, and mostly seedless. Because they do not have seeds, English cucumbers work well when blended into dressings, sauces, or chilled soups. Persian cucumbers are a smaller version of the English, and that compression makes them even more crisp and great for snacking.
These are the varieties most commonly found in South Carolina. Regardless of the variety, this long green summer vegetable finds itself at home in a number of dishes and libations, perhaps because of its simplicity. As a vegetable that is 95 percent water, cucumbers have a distinct, delicate flavor and are remarkably hydrating. Ultimately though, cucumbers are not a particularly nutrient-dense food. The water and fiber of cukes can aid digestion. Their hydrating quality works both in and outside of the body. That high water content is also a reason that cucumbers are often included in beauty products. Some folks recommend placing cucumbers over the eyes to reduce puffiness or creating a facial mask with yogurt and blended cucumbers to tone skin. No secret nutrient in cucumbers makes them especially healthy for skin; it is just hydration.
One especially delicious way to enjoy them is through an infusion. Adding cucumbers to chilled water with a slice of lemon makes a refreshing drink. Infusing vodka or tequila with cucumbers will also give an extra special flavor to a summertime cocktail.
1 cucumber, sliced
750 mL vodka, unflavored
Place cucumbers into a jar and pour vodka over them. Seal the jar and place in the refrigerator. The longer the infusion, the stronger the cucumber flavor. If possible, infuse overnight, or for at least 8 hours. Enjoy with crushed ice, tonic water, and a cucumber garnish.
Cucumbers are a critical ingredient in Greek Tzatziki sauce. Their cool flavor balances the garlic and rich Greek yogurt, while the water in the cucumber thins the sauce to the ideal consistency.
Garlic to taste
Salt to taste
Lemon juice to taste
Grate the cucumber or place it in a blender. Strain out the cucumber juice and discard any chunks. Stir this juice into the yogurt with the dill, garlic, salt, and lemon juice. Allow the sauce to sit overnight so that the flavors can meld into a cohesive sauce.
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 English cucumber
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine these ingredients in a blender until smooth. Adjust flavors based on personal preference. This is a great dressing to pour over a fresh garden salad or stir into shredded chicken to create a chicken salad.
While just about any vegetable can be pickled, cucumbers are undeniably the most common. When it comes to pickles, much of the light cucumber flavor dissipates in exchange for a strong vinegar flavor, and that has its value, too. The integrity of the cucumber is maintained in the crunchy crisp texture of a good pickle. Using pickling cucumbers ensures the best texture and absorption of pickling flavors.
Making pickles at home provides the chance to customize this briny snack. Chips, spears, or whole, the decision is up to the chef. Try different flavors by adding herbs and spices. Dill is a common flavor, but don’t be afraid to try fresh parsley, mustard seed, or pink peppercorns. Tossing in some sliced shallots or garlic can also sharpen the flavor of homemade pickles. Remember that the more flavoring ingredients added, the stronger the pickles will taste.
5 pickling cucumbers, sliced for personal preference
Preferred herbs, spices, and other flavors
2 cups water
1 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Place the pickles and preferred herbs or other ingredients into a glass jar. Over medium heat, warm water, vinegar, salt, and sugar to create a brine. Heat until salt and sugar have dissolved. Pour the mixture over the cucumbers. Seal tightly with a lid and refrigerate for one week before enjoying.