Cucumbers—Some Like It Hot

Cucumbers are in the gourd family, with its cousins the squashes, melons, and pumpkins. They are native to the Middle East—especially what is now Pakistan, where the Indus River makes the dry ground fertile and muddy. The original species of cucumber had smooth, brownish skin and very bitter flesh. Seed Savers Exchange carries a variety called Poona Kheera that is similar, with russeted skin like a potato, but  sweet flesh. Time and human intervention sweetened the skin and changed the skin color to green. The Ancient Greeks considered the cucumber to be Ambrosia—food from the gods—and mixed the pulp with honey, serving it only on special occasions.

The Romans were addicted to the cucumber. The Emperor Tiberius ate at least ten each day, year round. They stole them from the Greeks. The Macedonians took plants from Persian war ships in the battle of Granicus. The Persians had already stolen seed from the Medes, who brought the fascinating object to Babylonian gardens as a souvenir from India.

Originally, the cucumber came to Europe as a palliative plant, planted in vineyards to protect the grapes from insects. It took 50 or so years until someone finally discovered that they tasted good. Charlemagne declared that cucumbers were his favorite fruit, and he ate them as dessert, in sweet tarts and custards.

There is really no difference in the green cucumbers we have today. Many people prefer to eat “pickling cucumbers” in their salad, and I know several people who pickle the smoother “slicing cucumbers”. They are all tasty, and nutritious. And they are all as refreshing as they are prolific in hot weather, so eat up!

Cut up a cucumber into small chunks, cover in the amount of water you want to drink and let it soak in the fridge overnight. In the morning, strain the mixture and discard the cukes. Mint makes the drink even more cooling and refreshing. If you add mint, chop the mint and let it soak with the cucumber chunks in the water overnight. You can add a squeeze of lime before serving, or place a half lime in with the concoction you’re soaking overnight.

When all is said and done you’ve got a subtly flavoured, refreshing beverage you can serve over ice. It’s surprisingly addictive, so make a bunch or it’ll be gone in no time.

1/4 cucumber, peeled, sliced, seeded, and diced
1 lime, juiced, plus a wedge or slice, for garnish
2 ounces tequila reposado
1-ounce simple syrup or agave nectar
1-ounce sweet and sour mix
Pinch cayenne pepper powder

1. In a cocktail shaker muddle cucumber, add ice, lime juice, tequila, simple syrup, sweet and sour mix and pepper powder. Shake and serve in a rocks glass with salted rim. Garnish wtih a wedge or slice of slime.

2. Garnish with a wedge or slice of lime.

5 cucumbers
1/2 cup chopped parsley
6 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 quart buttermilk
1 pint yogurt
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Peel cucumbers and cut them in half, scraping out seeds. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt and let them stand 30 minutes. Drain excess water.

2. Chop the cucumbers coarsely and put the pieces in the blender along with scallions, dill, lemon juice, buttermilk, and yogurt. Blend at high speed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill well before serving.

CUCUMBER RAITA (Indian Cucumber Yogurt Sauce)
1 medium cucumber
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cups plain, whole-milk yogurt
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons fresh coriander or mint leaves, chopped
cayenne or paprika to garnish

Peel cucumber. Cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips, then into thin slices crosswise. Blot off moisture with paper towels. Toast cumin seeds for a few seconds in a small, heavy frying pan over high heat. In a bowl, stir yogurt until it is smooth. Mix it with the cumin, garlic and coriander or mint leaves. Combine mixture with cucumber slivers, sprinkle with cayenne or paprika, and chill before serving.

2 Cucumbers, about 7 inches long
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 1/2 tbsp. Cider Vinegar
1 tsp. Sugar
1 cup Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt
1 small Shallot, minced
1/2 tsp. Celery Seed
1 tbsp. chopped Chives or Green Onions
1/4 chopped Fresh Dill
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

1. Peel the cucumbers, if desired. Cut into thin slices and place them in a large bowl. Sprinkle the cucumber with 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tbsp. vinegar, and 1/4 tsp. sugar. Gently toss and let stand 30 minutes. Drain, gently pressing out liquid with the back of a spoon. Pat dry with paper towels.

2. Meanwhile, place the sour cream in a medium bowl and whisk until light. Whisk in the shallot, the remaining 2 tbsp. vinegar, the remaining 3/4 tsp. sugar, the celery seed, chives, and salt to taste.

3. Layer one third of the cucumber slices in the bottom of a small shallow serving dish. Spoon one third of the sour cream mixture over the top. Sprinkle with one third of the dill. Continue to layer until all ingredients are used up. Sprinkle the top with pepper to taste. Chill well and serve.

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