Please note: Eileen Goltz is a freelance kosher food writer. The Orthodox Union makes no endorsements or representations regarding kashrut certification of various products/vendors referred to in her articles, blog or web site.
Probably the most overlooked and underutilized produce in the fridge these days is the cucumber. It’s almost nobody’s first choice of ingredient for anything so it’s only fitting that every once in a while someone (that being me) shines a light on that skinny green vegetable…that is technically a fruit.
You can get cucumbers pretty much anytime during the year. Most people just eat them raw, throw them in a salad or turn them into pickles. They have lots of water in them and very few calories so obviously they make a wonderful addition to any diet.
Sadly most people think you have to peel your cucumber but really, all you need to do is wash them thoroughly. But make sure to get all that icky waxy stuff off, it’s not good for you; it just makes them look pretty and retain their moisture content. Otherwise, you can eat them skin and all. That way you’ll get a nice amount of fiber and vitamin A and have a little extra crunch to go with it.
And FYI–it’s the seeds in the cucumber that make them bitter. Make sure the cucumber you’re buying is fresh, firm and green.
There are over 100 varieties of cucumbers available but for the most part there are three you’ll find most often.
The American slicing cucumbers are the most popular and largest cucumbers you’ll find in the produce section.
Pickling cucumbers are there too and you can eat them raw or pickle them (but that’s another column).
Then there’s the “English” or “European” cucumber. They’re not really English or European (mostly they’re grown in California). Rather they are a mild tasting, very long and thin-skinned variety, sold wrapped in plastic hybrid. They are called seedless but they do have seeds, they’re just very very small. They are also more expensive than the other varieties.
My job with the following recipes is to blow your preconceived notions about cooking with a cucumber to smithereens. You can bake, sautee, pickle and roast with a cucumber and turn it into the star instead of the understudy.
MOCK CRAB AND CUCUMBER STIR FRY (fish)
Servings: 4 – 6
2 large cucumbers, peeled, cut in half length wise and seeded
3 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin
1 to 1 1/2 pounds mock crab, cut into bite-size pieces
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
3 tablespoons white wine or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar,
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch (or flour)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
In a small saucepan combine the wine, vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch and sugar. Whisk to combine and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer until it thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cut each cucumber half into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place a wok or large saute pan over the fire and heat 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the cucumbers, water chestnuts and 1 tablespoon of the ginger. Cook, stirring constantly, until the cucumber pieces are just cooked, about 3 minutes. Immediately remove them and place on the serving platter.
Add the last 2 tablespoons of oil into wok and let it heat for about 45 seconds. Add the garlic, 1 tablespoon ginger, green onions, and mock crab. Mix constantly while cooking and cook approximately 2 to 3 minutes. At this point pour the sauce over the mixture, mix to coat and let cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the sauce is hot and everything is coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the cucumbers and serve.
My files, source unknown.
CUCUMBER PEANUT PASTA SALAD (pareve)
Servings: 6 – 8
8 oz. bowtie noodles
2 cucumbers (quartered lengthwise and sliced)
1/2 lb fresh pea pods, cut into 1/3s
2 carrots diced
1 yellow, red or green bell pepper (cut into thin strips)
3/4 cup thinly sliced radishes
1/2 cup green onions, sliced thin
3 tablespoons minced parsley or cilantro
1/2 cup chopped honey roasted peanuts
1/4 cup salad oil
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated ginger root
several dashes Tabasco or hot sauce of choice
In a stock, pot cook pasta according to the directions on the package. About 1 minute before they’re done throw in the pea pods. Once cooked, dump everything into a colander and rinse with very cold water.
Drain and put the pasta and pea pods into a large bowl. Add the cucumber, carrots, pepper, green onions and parsley or cilantro. Mix to combine.
In a small bowl combine oil, rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and ginger. Whisk to combine and then add the hot sauce to taste. Whisk to combine.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad and mix to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle the chopped nuts over the top.
Modified from epicurean.com, my files.
CUCUMBER SWEET PEPPER SOUP (dairy)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 pieces of white bread, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups plain yogurt
1 1/2 cup packed watercress sprigs or parsley, rinsed and dried
2 large cucumbers, peeled if you like, seeded, and chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped fine
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped fine
4 to 5 tablespoons minced green onions or chives
Tabasco to taste
Garlic croutons (optional)
In the bowl of a food processor or blender combine the garlic, bread, vinegar, oil, yogurt and watercress. Process till smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the cucumber, bell pepper, green onions, and Tabasco. Mix to combine and then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve with croutons.
My files, source unknown.
THAI CUCUMBER SALAD (pareve)
This dressing can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated up to 12 hours in advance. Pour over the cucumbers just before packing them up for lunch.
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 medium cucumbers
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved completely and the vinegar has reduced slightly.
Transfer the vinegar dressing to a small bowl and refrigerate until completely cool.
Peel the cucumbers and use a mandolin or sharp knife to slice them into very thin rounds. Toss with the onion and dressing to coat evenly. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve.
From Jennifer McCanns Vegan Lunch Box (Da Capo Lifelong, 2009).
PACIFIC RIM ROLL UP WITH CUCUMBER RELISH (meat)
This recipe requires a crock-pot and about 8 hours but it’s sooooo worth it.
5 lbs beef, ribs, roast or whatever meat you like cut into pieces
1 bottle (10 oz) soy sauce
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup minced garlic
4 tablespoons minced ginger
6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup water (optional)
2 seedless cucumbers, diced
1 red onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
8 large flour tortillas
Make the relish first. Place the cucumbers in a bowl and add the salt, red onions, rice vinegar, sugar, poppy seeds and red pepper flakes. Mix to combine, cover and refrigerate.
Before serving, taste to see if it needs more sugar or more vinegar to make it to your liking. This can be made in the morning and sit in the refrigerator until the beef is done later in the day.
Place the beef in the crock pot and pour the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, vinegar, sesame oil and olive oil over the top. Mix to coat, then cover and cook on high for about 4 to 5 hours or on low for 8 hours or overnight.
When ready to serve remove the meat from the liquid and shred it. You can boil down the left over liquid for a sauce if it’s too thin. Pile the meat on to the tortillas, top with the cucumber relish and enjoy!
Submitted by Sandi Soclafesh of Boston, MA.
Certain produce requires careful examination for insects. Check out the newly released OU Manual for Checking Fruits and Vegetables. If your order from OU Press is over $100, you’ll get a FREE manual + FREE shipping.
Eileen Goltz is a freelance kosher food writer who was born and raised in the Chicago area. She graduated from Indiana University and the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. She lectures on various food-related topics across the U.S. and Canada and writes weekly columns for the Chicago Jewish News, kosher.com and the OU Life. She is the author of the Perfectly Pareve Cookbook (Feldheim) and is a contributing writer for the Chicken Soup for the Soul Book Group, Chicago Sun Times, Detroit Free Press and Woman’s World Magazine. You can visit Eileen’s blog by clicking: Cuisine by Eileen.