Cucumbers, whether fresh or pickled, show up everywhere: layered into sandwiches, tossed into salads, and added to plates as garnish, sometimes cut into fanciful shapes or adorned with decorative edging. They're also a favorite of backyard gardeners, for both their ease of growing and their abundant nature once they start producing. Still, they strike me as underappreciated: How often do we stop to really savor the cucumber's sweet, grassy flavor and refreshing crunch?
To give this crisp summer vegetable a chance in the limelight, you can, of course, incorporate it into all manner of salads—a fully loaded Greek salad or a soba salad with seaweed and cucumbers is a good place to start. But that's just the beginning, as you'll see from the collection of recipes here, which includes cucumbers smashed and dressed in vinegar, stir-fried with pork, topping burgers, and wrapped in smoky grilled eggplant.
Cucumber adds bright crunch when mixed into this hearty quinoa salad, a close relative of tabbouleh. Quartered grape tomatoes—your best bet for flavor and texture outside of tomato season—and a heavy hand with fresh parsley and mint finish it off. To keep the salad from getting soggy, be sure to drain the quinoa thoroughly, and salt and drain the tomatoes and cucumbers to draw out their excess moisture.
Despite some versions you may have seen in American diners, we're firm believers that lettuce has no place in a Greek salad. It serves as a largely flavorless filler, taking up space that should be devoted to tomatoes at the peak of their ripeness and quality. To the tomatoes we add quartered and sliced cucumbers, quick-pickled red onion, slabs of feta, and pitted black olives—though the olives in a Greek salad usually come with pits, we see no reason to make it a more labor-intensive eating experience than necessary.
Treat this bright green salad as the perfect excuse to devour all the spring produce you can. We combine blanched sweet peas, asparagus, fava beans, crisp snap peas, and cucumber with fresh mozzarella cheese, then serve the whole thing atop a generous dollop of labne to turn this salad into a full meal.
Asian noodles make great pasta salads—unlike Western wheat-based noodles, they mingle happily with both acidic dressings and raw vegetables. For this refreshing dish, we serve sturdy cold soba noodles with crisp raw cucumber and blanched asparagus, wakame seaweed, and a bright lemon-soy vinaigrette.
A dish of chilled noodles in peanut sauce is always a winner—it's satisfying and simple, and will keep well in the refrigerator. But noodles and sauce alone make a dish that's relatively homogeneous in texture, and doesn't exactly feel like a complete meal. This salad adds balance and intrigue by incorporating just as many vegetables as noodles—cucumber, red bell pepper, mung bean sprouts, scallion, herbs, and chilies—though the chili- and soy-spiked peanut sauce is plenty rich enough to offset all those crisp vegetal flavors.
Pleasantly slippery and mild in flavor, shirataki noodles are a perfect blank canvas on which to construct noodle salads. The intense flavor of this one comes from a sauce of Chinese sesame paste, black vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, and an oil infused with dried chilies and numbing-hot Sichuan peppercorns. Strips of cucumber and roasted peanuts add crunchy bits throughout.
Given the notorious spiciness of Sichuan cooking, it's no surprise that fresh, cooling sides are also an important part of cuisine from that region. If you're planning a tingly-hot dish for dinner (Sichuan wontons in chili oil, perhaps?), a super-simple salad like this one—made with lightly smashed and chopped cucumbers tossed with vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic—makes the perfect palate cleanser between bites.
Grilling eggplant until it's crisp-edged and smoky, then rolling it up around flavorful ingredients, is a great way to make the mild-tasting nightshade more exciting. Here, the creamy filling is a mixture of Greek yogurt, feta, and herbs, plus diced tomatoes and cucumbers for fresh crunch. We pile it all on top of tender, browned strips of grilled globe eggplant for a backyard appetizer that effectively marries cooling flavors with smoky, charred ones.
A dose of mayonnaise makes the yogurt-feta sauce that accompanies this burger extra creamy, while a generous shower of black pepper gives the sauce enough backbone to stand up to a rich patty. An easy relish of diced cucumbers and tomatoes, made just a bit tart with lemon juice, completes the toppings.
Quick-pickled cucumber slices are a fast and dead-easy way to add a little brightness and texture to your burgers and sandwiches, so make a big batch of these now and you can grab a few slices every time you need them for up to a month. All it takes is a couple of Kirby cucumbers, vinegar, a few aromatic ingredients, and roughly half an hour of (mostly hands-off) time.
These quick-pickled cucumbers aren't so different from the sandwich chips described above—they're similarly simple to make, will last several weeks in the fridge, and add a welcome crunch and acidity anywhere they're needed—but a combination of rice wine vinegar and sugar gives them an Asian profile. They're especially good in dishes like these sous vide pork belly buns.
Refrigerator pickles make a good choice for those who want that briny taste and satisfyingly crunchy texture, but aren't interested in preserving their produce for longer-term storage. These dill pickles are flavored with a balanced and complex spice blend—including allspice, juniper berries, mustard seed, turmeric, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and ginger—and packed in a brine that's calibrated for optimal flavor and safe eating. They'll stay good in the fridge for up to a couple of months.
Ready to try your hand at real-deal, processed, shelf-stable pickles? Submerging your pickling cucumbers in a saltwater brine provides the perfect environment for friendly lactobacillus microbes to kick off the fermentation process. Once the cucumbers have been packed with the brine, herbs, and spices, carefully seal up the jars and place them in a cool, dry location. It'll take about three weeks for them to reach the half-sour stage, and another three weeks after that to mature into full sours. Read our guide to pickle science before you get started to make sure you have all the knowledge you need.
Cucumbers aren't just for pickling and eating raw in salads. Though we don't often consider them for inclusion in cooked dishes, when salted and stir-fried over intense heat, they take on a nicely smooth, juicy, and meaty texture. Here, we combine the cucumbers with soy sauce, sesame oil, and marinated ground pork—the pork functions mainly as a seasoning, while the cukes are the star.
If you're not already making your own teriyaki sauce, you really ought to make the small investment of time required and do it—homemade teriyaki sauce is infinitely better than anything you can buy in stores, and it keeps forever. Once you have that teriyaki on hand, it's a matter of 15 minutes to whip up these rice bowls topped with sweet-and-savory teriyaki-glazed salmon, creamy avocado, and crisp cucumber.
The poke craze is still going strong in the country's coastal cities, which is just fine by me—any excuse to eat more raw fish. The best poke, though, is the kind you make yourself at home, using the best-quality sashimi-grade fish you can find and whatever mix-ins you prefer. Buttery hamachi (a.k.a. yellowtail) is our choice for this version. We offset the richness of the fish with the complementary textures and flavors of diced cucumber, hot Thai bird chilies, and thinly sliced lemon zest.
Aguachile, the delicious Mexican answer to Peruvian ceviche, consists of raw seafood, often shrimp, bathed in a flavorful chili-lime marinade mixed with cucumber and onion. Unlike with ceviche, the seafood used in aguachile isn't allowed to "cook" via a long rest in the acidic marinade—it's served immediately after being tossed with the lime juice and other ingredients—so you'll want to seek out impeccably fresh shrimp. Tell your fishmonger that you're going to be eating them raw.
Like poke, avocado toast is one of those culinary trends that are just too tasty to sneer at, especially since it's a snap to make your own customized version at home. That could be nothing more than spreading good toasted bread with ripe avocado and sprinkling on coarse sea salt. But, if you want to get your creative juices flowing, take a look at our collection of nine different avocado toast variations, including toast topped with Frank's RedHot and blue cheese, smoked salmon and capers, and baby peas and radishes. For this one, we mix the avocado with umami-heavy soy sauce and pair it with sliced cucumber, scallion, and shichimi togarashi.
Cucumber raita, an Indian yogurt-based condiment, goes well with just about everything, especially biryani or other dishes made with meat and rice. While raita can be seasoned or mixed with all sorts of spices and vegetables, this is the most classic version of the sauce, incorporating crisp cucumbers and lightly spiced with chaat masala.
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