The lowly cucumber: a tragically underappreciated vegetable if there ever was one. With all the crazy recent food trends in which under-utilized vegetables such as kale and cauliflower became rock stars, the cucumber has been ignored. What a crime!
When I ponder the unsung cucumber, and this happens more than I would care to admit, my mind often wanders to a hot, humid summer’s day. A sultry day in which the whole body, yes, you could even say the soul, cries out for seemingly unattainable refreshment. It is as if I have taken on the persona Heathcliff as he suffers and fails in his attempts to gain the affections of Catherine. Fortunately, unlike Heathcliff, there is a cure for my unquenchable thirst: a cool and succulent cucumber.
Cucumbers are thought to have originated in Western Asia. Because cucumbers have the ability to thrive in both temperate as well as sub-tropical climates, they quickly spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and eventually the rest of the world. If any of you were paying attention to your high school history teacher, you might recall them being mentioned in the story of Gilgamesh. (To be fair, one of my sons, who happens to be in high school, mentioned this to me. I didn’t pay any more attention in class than y’all did.)
Finding ways to exploit the crunchy texture and dewy deliciousness of cucumbers is awfully fun. Here’s a few of my favorite examples from around the world. First off is gazpacho, the Andalusian summer soup of cucumbers, tomatoes, and bread. Very simple yet satisfying—don’t forget to finish the soup with a generous splash of aged sherry vinegar right before serving. Next, infuse some ice-cold water with cucumber slices. It’s just the thing while lounging poolside.
The French give us inspiration with a classic salmon tartare—the intriguing contrast of the rich, oily flesh of the salmon with moist cucumber, and of course the slightly pungent shallots, is fantastic. This lavish treat is best when served over a delicate corn blini. The Hawaiian version of tartare is poké, in which tuna, avocados, and cucumber are combined with sesame oil and soy. It’s pretty amazing how bringing together a couple common ingredients can create an item this exotic.
Lest you forget—who could?—the combination of cucumbers and yogurt aka tzatziki is enjoyed throughout the Levant. Oh, and don’t forget pickles! But one of my all-time favorites are cucumber tea sandwiches. Give this simple little version a try.
Chef Bill’s Cucumber & Chive Cream Cheese Tea Sandwiches
- 2 tbsp. chives, chopped
- 3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 English cucumber
- 3 sprigs dill
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- White bread
- Trim the crusts off the bread and cut into one- to two-bite squares, rectangles, or triangles.
- Mix the cream cheese with chives and lemon juice.
- Slice the cumbers, preferably on a mandolin, paper-thin.
- Spread the cream cheese on half of the bread, layer cucumbers on top, then cover with the remaining bread.
- Garnish with the dill sprigs.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at email@example.com to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!