Everybody jokes about having more zucchini than they can eat. Just this week, a young friend discovered a giant one in his bed, placed there by roguish companions.
But at this time of year, excess is normal. Out of the garden’s cornucopia pour all the fruiting vegetables, such as pole beans, tomatoes and my own particular bête noire, cucumbers. If not picked every day or two, cukes grow too big to be tasty, and the plant will soon stop producing if you don’t pick at all.
So now’s the time to consult your mental list of favorite cucumber dishes and maybe add some new ones.
Mine are simple. A sandwich of sliced cucumbers with mayonnaise, salt and pepper makes a great, quick lunch. Add watercress and cut off the crusts, and it’s fine enough for a ladies’ tea. Cream cheese instead of mayo is good, too.
Make summer canapés by using cucumber slices instead of crackers and spreading them with goat cheese. Make a dip out of something colorful, such as saffron-tinted aioli or pureed red peppers with feta cheese, and supply cucumber rounds for dipping.
For a more substantial finger food, make little dugout canoes by slicing small cucumbers in half lengthwise and scraping out the seeds. Fill with a cargo of mustardy egg salad or a finely diced chicken salad with mayo and seedless grapes cut in half.
Toss sliced cucumbers into every green salad you make. When more effort is expected, prepare my default busy-day potluck salad by combining sliced cucumbers with a bit of thinly sliced onion and tossing them in yogurt, sour cream or a combination of the two, along with minced fresh herbs such as tarragon, mint or thyme.
You can also grate cucumbers and mix them with yogurt to serve as a cooling raita along with a hot, spicy curry. The more that cucumbers are cut, the more water they will lose. So, to keep your raita from getting runny, you can salt the grated flesh a bit, twist it in a paper towel and squeeze the moisture out.
With soup, runniness is not an issue, and there are many ways to make soup with cucumbers, the most famous of which is gazpacho. Tomatoes, peppers and celery are classic ingredients in gazpacho as well, but cucumbers are essential. I like this soup coarsely chopped so that all the ingredients are visible. Onions, scallions and especially garlic are players, too. I stir olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar in at the end.
An easy soup can be made by sauteing cucumbers and shallots in butter until soft, then simmering with dill, chicken broth and a little cream. Puree and serve hot or chilled. For a cooked side dish, omit the chicken broth and simmer to reduce the cream.
For some people, the only reason to grow cucumbers is to make pickles. I love pickles, but if I barely have time to pick my cucumbers, I definitely don’t have time to pickle them.
That’s why, in summer, simple dishes rule. With deli-style salads such as tuna salad, ham salad and pasta salad, try substituting cucumber for chopped celery. It will lend that satisfying crunch, and you are far more likely to have cucumbers in your garden than you are to have celery. Celery is fussy to grow, whereas with cucumbers, it is all too easy to get a fine, abundant crop — and yes, that can be a good thing.