More often than not, there’s a cucumber salad on my dinner table in the summertime. Any leftover salad is eagerly finished the next day, served atop scrambled eggs, spooned up with a hunk of feta, or stuffed into a pita pocket with turkey for a quick lunch. Once my garden starts yielding cucumbers, they don’t stop coming. This isn’t a problem, but simply a seasonal phenomenon — and a welcome one at that.
Most seed catalogs have a category for “salad cucumbers” or “slicing cucumbers.” They’re the classic, large, dark-green cucumbers. These cultivars were developed for commercial growers for their high yields, resistance to damage from cucumber beetles, and admirable shipping attributes. The cucumbers hold up fairly well in the refrigerator, which is why they’re the marketing standard at both farm stands and supermarkets. The vines are also prolific, and many are disease resistant. There are drawbacks to these cultivars, though, including bitter skins if the cucumbers become stressed, bloated fruit during heavy rains, large seeds, and bland flavor. If you pit these marketed slicers against pickling cucumbers, Middle Eastern cultivars, or Asian cultivars in a blind taste test, you’ll realize just how lacking in flavor they are. Could this uninspiring taste explain why these cukes accumulate in your fridge?
I’ve eliminated the slicing cucumbers from my garden, and I now focus on growing small picklers, Middle Eastern types, and Asian cultivars, all of which lack bitterness. Middle Eastern cucumbers — also known as Persian or Lebanese cucumbers — are adapted to hot, dry climates, but I’ve had reasonably good luck with them in my garden in rainy, cool Vermont. These cucumbers are nearly seedless, with light-green, ridged skins, and a mild yet distinctive flavor and aroma. Lately, these types are available in supermarkets as “baby cucumbers.” Though ridiculously expensive, they’re worth buying at least once to taste for yourself. Asian cucumbers are smooth skinned, slender, and long — sometimes as long as a foot. If left on the vine, they can get even longer, though they’ll become tough after a point. They’re deep-green and have a mild flavor.
Middle Eastern and Asian types aren’t as prolific as the slicing and pickling cucumbers, and they do require trellising, but they hold up better if left unpicked, and they don’t balloon into seedy monsters overnight. In fact, the seeds are quite small and slow to develop. Pickling and slicing cucumbers have an annoying habit of avoiding detection by hiding behind their leaves, so their seeds can become large and surrounded by a watery pulp that leaches into a salad. To remove the larger seeds, I quarter the cucumbers lengthwise and scoop the seeds out with the tip of a teaspoon. From there, I slice the cucumbers into quarter-moon shapes. I never peel homegrown cucumbers, because the skin, if not bitter, adds flavor and texture to salads.
Lastly, I prefer to make my own salad dressings. It’s not difficult; you can vary the flavor by choosing different herbs each night, and you won’t end up with a half-dozen bottles of dressing filling up the refrigerator.
The following recipes will help you use up your accumulating cucumbers and provide new inspiration for summer salads.
- Everyday Salad
- Asian Cucumber Salad
- Creamy Cucumber Salad
- Mediterranean Cucumber and Tomato Salad
- Cucumber Watermelon Salad
Cucumbers vary widely in size, but here’s how you can guesstimate quantities:
- 1 pound whole cucumbers equals 4 cups sliced 1/4 inch thick, or 4 cups quartered and sliced
- 1 pound whole cucumbers equals 3 to 4 pickling cucumbers, about 2 slicing cucumbers, or 1-1/4 Asian or Middle Eastern cucumbers
Andrea Chesman has written more than 20 cookbooks. She gives cooking demonstrations at events across the United States.