Pity the poor cucumber.
Often relegated to the relish tray or salad bowl, or pickled and left to languish in the refrigerator, cucumbers deserve some respect.
Why? They're refreshing during sultry weather; they're ripening in gardens now and filling bins at farmers markets. They can be more than an ingredient in salads. Just ask cooks around the world who use them in gazpacho, tzatziki and other dishes.
Even when cooked -- yes, cooked -- they can be delicious.
"When I attended La Varenne cooking school in Paris, we used to saute cucumbers in butter -- cut into tiny footballs -- and eat as you would zucchini," said Steven Raichlen, host of "Primal Grill" on PBS and the author of numerous cookbooks including "The Barbecue Bible."
Cookbook author and New York-based Indian cooking teacher Julie Sahni likes to cook cucumbers, with one caveat: "Never overcook them."
When incorporating them in recipes, remember their unique, moist yet-crisp texture: "There's a reason we say cool as a cucumber," said Raichlen.
Cucumbers come in dozens of varieties but are generally divided into two camps: slicers (smooth skin, large) and picklers (smaller in size, bumpier skin).
European cucumbers (sometimes called English) tend to have fewer seeds than other varieties and can be found in the supermarket wrapped in plastic.
Raichlen, who loves raw cukes, suggested looking "for varieties with a high ratio of flesh to skin and seeds." He cited Kirbys (a pickling type) and European cucumbers as well as the new unwaxed mini cukes sold in some markets by Melissa's/World Variety Produce.
Cut them in spears and add them to drinks. Use a mandoline to slice a seedless cuke, then alternate the slices with ice cubes, add water and sip. Or put a couple slices on your eyes, relax ... and consider the cucumber anew.
Use cucumbers in place of crackers or bread rounds for appetizers.
Choose firm cucumbers, slice off ends. Remove several lengthwise strips of peel; do not peel completely. Slice into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Sprinkle slices lightly with salt; let stand a few minutes. Rinse, place slices on a paper towel; pat dry with a second towel. Top with 1/2-1 teaspoon of a favorite flavored spread such as smoked trout. Or spread with farmers cheese and top with a small curl of smoked salmon. Garnish.
Create a cucumber cup. Using firm cucumbers, slice off ends. Remove several lengthwise strips of peel; do not peel completely. Cut crosswise into 1 1/2-2-inch pieces. Carefully scoop out seeds (a small melon baller works well), but do not break through bottom of cup. Sprinkle cups lightly with salt; let stand a few minutes. Rinse and invert cups on paper towels to drain. Fill with a favorite seafood salad (crab, tuna, shrimp), thick gazpacho or couscous salad.
GLAZED CUCUMBERS WITH SESAME
Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 10 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Julie Sahni, cookbook author and New York-based Indian cooking teacher, suggests adding a pinch of cumin -- seeds or ground -- to this recipe adapted from her book, "Savoring Spices and Herbs: Recipe Secrets of Flavor, Aroma, and Color." It would make a fine side dish for tandoori chicken or a rich fish, such as salmon.
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
3 cucumbers, ends trimmed, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon each: kosher salt, white pepper
1 tablespoon each: water, lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1. Lightly toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes; set aside. Cut cucumber halves crosswise into 2-inch pieces. Cut each piece lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick julienne sticks.
2. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat; add cucumber pieces, salt and pepper. Cook until cucumber is opaque, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with water. Cover; cook until just soft, 2 minutes.
3. Uncover skillet; raise the heat to high. Cook, shaking pan, until pieces are glazed, about 1 minute. Transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, lime juice and cilantro.
Per serving: 60 calories, 66 percent of calories from fat, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 125 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 10 minutes
Makes: 4 servings (7 cups)
There are numerous recipes for cucumber soups, some served hot, others chilled. This hot one has its roots in Guatemala. Adapted from "Healthy Latin Cooking" by Steven Raichlen.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 large cucumbers, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Squeeze of lime, optional
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and parsley. Cook until onions are soft, 4 minutes. Add cucumbers. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
2. Add stock; increase heat to high. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until cucumbers are soft, 5 minutes. Transfer soup in batches to a blender. Puree. Return to saucepan; stir in sour cream until smooth. Stir in salt, pepper and lime juice. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with chives.
Per serving: 182 calories, 50 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 430 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
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