Cool Hand Cuke

Delicate and sweet with a refreshing crunch, the cucumber is an ideal food for hot and humid summer days.

Cucumbers are the garden’s answer to summer heat. They make flavorful additions to salads and sandwiches, and pair beautifully with tropical fruit such as pineapple or mango in a cooling salsa. So it’s great timing being able to find locally grown “cukes” at farmers’ markets starting this month.

One of the oldest cultivated vegetables, cucumis sativus has been grown for many thousands of years. Botanists believe it originated near the border between Thailand and Burma, where the earliest known cucumber was found and dated to 6000 B.C. Cucumbers were known and eaten in ancient Mesopotamia and in medieval Europe. The first plant arrived in the New World in 1494 with Christopher Columbus, and cultivation quickly spread. Cukes’ cool, thirst-quenching quality has always been prized; a menu from a royal Italian banquet held in 1529 reveals that cucumbers were served alongside sweetened almonds, fruits and confections as a refreshing conclusion to a nine-course meal.

Today, we’re more likely to dress cucumbers in savory, piquant sauces of vinegar or sour cream than to serve them with sweets. However you slice it, though, the cucumber offers a bracing crunch that is its most alluring quality. This is partly because, similar to other members of the cucurbit family, which includes winter squash and melons, cucumbers have a very high water content of 95 percent. The fact that we usually eat cucumbers in their simplest state—uncooked—hardly translates to culinary monotony. Recipes from around the world offer all manner of tempting interpretations.

From delicious side dishes such as Indian raita, Greek tzatziki or cacik, a popular Turkish dish that combines them with creamy yogurt, garlic and mint, cucumbers pair well with all manner of savory ingredients. In England, cucumber sandwiches are a tea-time staple. French cuisine includes cucumber soup, and in Asian cuisine, cucumbers show up everywhere from vinegar-sprinkled salads to fresh spring rolls. About two-thirds of the world’s cucumber crop is eaten fresh (the remainder is used for making pickles). There are more than 100 different varieties, and through local growers, you may be able to sample intriguing, less-common varieties such as lemon cucumber. Yet even the most humble pickling cucumber is a summer treasure—one worth seeking out now before the season concludes.


Easy Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream and Dill

This cool, classic salad (pictured above) is always a hit alongside barbecue or other spicy foods. Use locally grown cucumbers that haven’t been treated with a waxy coating or thin-skinned hothouse (English) cucumbers, and you won’t have to spend time peeling.

Halve and thinly slice 1 pound of cucumber. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream, 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice and 2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill. Whisk together ingredients with a fork to combine and season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Add cucumbers and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours, or serve immediately.


Cucumbers for Dummies

There are basically two types of cucumbers, slicing varieties and smaller pickling varieties such as gherkin or cornichon. If you’re looking to enjoy cucumbers in salads or in other simple dishes, try one of these refreshing slicing varieties:

  • Garden Cucumber: These are the most commonly available type of cuke, and the ones found year-round—they are generally 6- to 10-inches long with smooth, dark-green skin. The reason most commercially produced cucumbers are waxed is to prevent moisture loss and to extend shelf life, but this makes the skin unappealing to eat. In summer, you should be able to find locally grown fresh specimens that are not waxed; however, depending on the recipe, you may want to remove the peel anyway, since it can have a bitter flavor.
  • English “Hothouse” Cucumber: These slender, thin-skinned cucumbers grow up to a foot or longer, don’t need to be peeled or seeded, and are tender yet crisp; they’re also called hothouse or Mediterranean cucumbers. Usually, the exteriors are wrapped in plastic instead of coated with wax. There are a number of thin-skinned cucumbers that have a similar elongated shape, including the Japanese cucumber (distinguished by bumps on the exterior) and the Armenian cucumber (hard to find, but prized as one the most flavorful types).
  • Lemon Cucumber: Like their namesake citrus fruit, these cukes have a round shape and a yellow-green color, but don’t expect any tart citrus flavors—in fact, they taste very mild and sweet. Look for them at farmers’ markets and try them in all manner of salads or in other raw preparations; they lack the bitterness that can be evident in garden cucumbers. They can also be used for pickling.
  • Kirby Cucumber: These 3- to 6-inch-long cukes, light to dark green in color, are generally easiest to find in the peak summer season. Although they’re among the best for pickling, they work equally well as slicing cucumbers. They have a mild taste and good crunch, and a thin skin that doesn’t necessarily have to be peeled.

How to Select and Store Cucumbers

Look for specimens with healthy, brightly colored skin. They should be very firm without wrinkles or blemishes. Avoid those that feel soft or have a dull-yellow cast (this means they are too mature and may contain lots of hard seeds). Because cucumbers are mostly water, they don’t store well; eat them right away, or store in the refrigerator for no longer than two or three days. Because they dehydrate so quickly, avoid leaving them out at room temperature for any extended period. To store the remainder of a cucumber, wrap it tightly in plastic so it doesn’t dry out.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

According to a financial advising site, Pittsburgh is both affordable and a good place to find a job for those fresh out of college.
Harold Hayes' Biggest Retirement Fear, It's Not What You Think

Harold Hayes' Biggest Retirement Fear, It's Not What You Think

Hayes leaves KDKA TV after nearly 37 years with his legacy as one of the city's most respected, fair and accurate reporters – and his priceless sense of humor – firmly intact.
What to Watch Out For in This Year’s Pittsburgh Marathon

What to Watch Out For in This Year’s Pittsburgh Marathon

Marathon weekend can be a challenge for both runners, who are trying to finish the grueling race, and spectators who are simply trying to get around. We've got the info you need, whether you're running or watching from the sidelines.
Philly Chefs With Pittsburgh Roots Win Big at the James Beard Awards

Philly Chefs With Pittsburgh Roots Win Big at the James Beard Awards

Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook have picked up two James Beard awards this year, and Solomonov is in the running for one more.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

According to a financial advising site, Pittsburgh is both affordable and a good place to find a job for those fresh out of college.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

The case against TouchTunes, the streaming music loudspeaker that can't stop screwing up the vibe at local bars.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

For the Steelers, this is a draft that’s long on need but short on intrigue.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Off to the Races

Off to the Races

Want to shade yourself in style at Derby Day and the PNC Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Spring Hat Luncheon? Look no further.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Reviews of "Mother's Day," "Keanu," "Green Room" and local film news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
What Type of Favor Do You Favor?

What Type of Favor Do You Favor?

Planning your wedding and can’t think of the best favor that will represent you and your big day? We spoke with three Pittsburgh-area couples to learn more about making the best and most personalized decision possible.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Phipps Kicks off the Planting Season

Phipps Kicks off the Planting Season

Welcome spring at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens with the Great Plant Auction, Party in the Tropics and May Market.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

The Tech Savvy program from the American Association of University Women aims to interest middle school girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Comments