What’s cooler than a cucumber? Mankind’s been eating them for about 4,000 years. Columbus brought them to the New World in 1494, and the Iroquois were growing cukes when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, Mass. One of them, wrapped in foil, caused a scene at airport security in the 1984 rockumentary, if you will, “This Is Spinal Tap.”
Cucumbers are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, as are watermelons, pumpkins and squash. To keep your cuke slices crisp and more likely to absorb a vinaigrette, first place them in a colander and sprinkle a little salt to draw out the moisture. After an hour, rinse the slices and pat themdry.
It’s a step worth doing because cucumbers are more than 90 percent water. This also makes them quite perishable — and perfect for all sorts of heat-soothing applications, including raitas, salsas, chilled soups, slaws, sorbets and juice blends.
We checked the Food section’s archives for some cool ways to make the most of them:
HOW TO CHOOSE: Look for cucumbers that are firm and without soft spots. The non-pickling varieties should be six to nine inches in length. The ones you’re finding at farmers market now will probably be unwaxed; you’ll be able to tell by their matte-finish exterior.
Otherwise, cucumbers are waxed to keep them from dehydrating during shopping and storage. Two kinds of cucumbers are generally available year-round: the long, narrow, almost-seedless variety (called hothouse, English or European) and the rounder, wider, standard cucumber with seeds. The seedless ones are often shrink-wrapped for longer shelf life; their tapered ends tend to spoil first. Though most cucumbers can be turned into pickles, some varieties are bred just for that purpose. Small Persian cukes have become popular, due in part to their thin skin and slight sweetness.
HOW TO STORE: If they're waxed, they'll last more than a week in the refrigerator's vegetable bin. If they're not, refrigerate them in a plastic bag for up to a week.
Find some of our favorite cucumber recipes after the jump.
Banh-Mi Scrambled Eggs. Cukes are peeled, cut into thin strips and marinated with carrot, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and rice vinegar. The mixture goes atop softly scrambled eggs. Nice crunch.
Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork With Golden Garlic. As seen at the start; ready in 20 minutes.
Rice Salad With Cucumber and Grapes in Aromatic Oil. Chunky, crunchy and soft.
Melon and Cucumber Salad. Sriracha and sesame seeds give the combination an Asian edge.
Thai Cucumber Salad. Simple, refreshing and vegan.