Alan Tangren: Cool cucumbers
Dear Alan: I love cucumbers in salads and always make a few pickles every summer too. Can you give me some new ideas on how to prepare them?
Alan: Cucumbers are available year-round, but locally-grown ones appear at the market in the heat of summer, when their refreshing flavor and juicy crunchiness are most welcome. Thankfully they don’t go away until the first cool days of fall.
Cucumbers are easy to prepare for eating fresh. You can decide to peel or not, or do what I like to call half-hearted peeling, where you get a nice striped effect when sliced.
Make a simple sandwich with sliced cucumbers and onions between slices of buttered bread or with mayonnaise. Add some thin-sliced cured or smoked salmon if you want to be really decadent.
Serve cucumber and yogurt raita alongside spicy Indian curry. Make a refreshing first course salad with cucumbers, avocado and cilantro dressed with lime juice and olive oil.
Especially good with Mexican dishes is a cooling salad of thin-sliced cucumber, mango and red onion, with lime juice, salt and cilantro.
When shopping for cucumbers, keep in mind that the small, warty or spiny green ones make the best pickles.
For slicing and eating raw, there are a couple of options. Traditional slicing cucumbers are six to 10 inches long and have smooth, dark green skin. Milder in flavor, with more tender, slightly corrugated skin are the English or European cucumbers. Most tender and delicate of all are slender Mediterranean or Persian cucumbers.
Regardless of type, there are a few simple rules for selecting cucumbers. A gentle squeeze at both ends should feel very firm. The color should be bright and lifelike. Lemon cucumbers should be white or just slightly yellow.
Some commercially-raised cucumbers are coated with an edible wax to preserve them, which may make them shiny but not necessarily fresh. Avoid any cucumbers that are soft, dull-looking, or yellowing. In general, the smallest cukes in the pile will be the best quality.
Cucumbers may be refrigerated for several days, but they gradually loose water and are best eaten as soon as possible.
When I prepare cucumbers to use in a salad, I like to salt the slices lightly and refrigerate them in a colander for an hour or so. When I am ready to use them, I pat them dry with a towel. Taste first and give them a rinse if they are too salty.
Serve this to cool off Indian food, or next to grilled spicy fish or chicken.
2 medium cucumbers
2 cups yogurt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
Peel cucumbers if desired. Cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds with a teaspoon they are hard. Cut the flesh into small dice or thin slices and season with salt.
Fold in the yogurt and season with cayenne and more salt if needed. Makes 3 to 4 cups.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at email@example.com.
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