Cooling Cucumbers

Cucumbers

The Chinese say food should be enjoyed for its texture as well as flavor. Cucumbers have a unique texture and refreshing cool taste. An afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches, thinly sliced cucumber between wafer thin brown buttered bread, provides a delight of contrasts - the soft bread, the smooth butter and the cool crisp cucumber.

Varieties

English Cucumbers: These are the cucumbers that English are most familiar with. They have fewer seeds and thinner skin than the ridged cucumber.

Gherkins : These are tiny cucumbers with bumpy, almost warty skins and are mostly pickled in vinegar and eaten with cold meats or chopped into mayonnaise.

Kirbys : Small cucumbers, available in the United States and used for pickling.

Ridged Cucumbers : These are smaller than most cucumbers with more seeds and a thick, bumpy skin. You can buy them all over France but otherwise they tend to be available only in specialist greengrocers. The waxed ones need to be peeled before eating but most ridged cucumbers on the Continent are un-waxed and good without peeling.

Buying and Storing : Cucumbers should be firm from top to bottom. They are often sold pre-wrapped in plastic and can be stored in the salad drawer of the fridge for up to a week. Remove the plastic packaging once you've "started" a cucumber. Discard once it begins to go soggy.

Preparing : Whether you peel a cucumber or not is a matter of personal preference, but wash it if you don't intend to peel it. Some producers use wax coatings to give a glossy finish and these cucumbers must be peeled. If you are in doubt, buy organic cucumbers. Special citrus peelers can remove strips of peel to give an attractive striped effect when sliced.

Serving : Thinly sliced cucumber is most frequently served with a light dressing or soured cream. In Greece cucumber is an essential part of a Greek country salad, horiatiki salata, cut into thick chunks and served with tomatoes, peppers and feta and dressed simply with olive oil and a little wine vinegar. Iced cucumber soup is delicious, and cucumber can also be pureed with yogurt, garlic and herbs and served with soured cream stirred in.

Cooking : Cucumbers are normally served raw, but are surprisingly good cooked. Cut the cucumber into wedges, remove the seeds and then simmer for a few minutes until tender. Once drained, return the cucumber to the pan and stir in a little cream and seasoning.

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