When it comes to humble, ho-hum vegetables, cucumbers often find their way to the top of the list.
Available in every grocery store produce aisle, no matter what the season, the long, green members of the gourd, or Cucurbitaceae, family of plants is so ubiquitous that the average American will eat more than 8 pounds of cucumbers each year, either raw in salads or bathed in brine as pickles.
Yet to dismiss the fruit as nothing more than a reliable, crunchy base for a salad or sandwich, or a crisp green garnish on a bowl of noodles, is to deny yourself of one of the most versatile culinary ingredients.
For instance, cucumbers can be blended into smoothies, thinly sliced and filled with cream cheese and salmon as a roll-up finger food, or stirred together with yogurt, garlic and lemon into the Greek dressing tzatziki. They also can add a colorful garnish to certain cocktails and mocktails and sliced a little on the thicker side, make a great bread substitute for appetizer spreads.
Pureed with a little lime juice and simple syrup, cucumbers also can be frozen into popsicles.
This time of year, with temperatures rising, they also make a good base for a cool, fresh-tasting soup.
Cucumbers have the highest water content of any food — more even than the eponymous watermelon. Each is a whopping 96 percent water, which means cukes are not only great for watching your weight (an entire cucumber counts just 45 calories), but also make the perfect ingredient when you need something refreshing and hydrating to chill out on a hot summer day.
To get you started, we offer three recipes where cucumber plays a starring role: a bright-red strawberry-cucumber gazpacho with just a hint of chili; a spicy curried cucumber soup that gets its kick from fresh ginger, garlic and lemon; and a classic, no-fuss cucumber soup flavored with citrusy-tart Granny Smith apple.
All can be made in a blender or food processor, and are best served after cooling in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld.
I used English cucumbers, which have thin skins, minimal seeds and a mild flavor, but you could easily swap in garden cucumbers, which are the most common variety in the U.S. and the ones you’re most likely to find at a farmers market or grow in your backyard. Just remember they have a thicker skin and grocery store cukes often come waxed, so you may want to peel and seed them before tossing them into the food processor or blender.
When buying, look for cucumbers that are an even medium or dark green color, without any blemishes or yellow spots that indicate they’re over ripening. They also should be firm, without any soft spots. Smaller cucumbers will have fewer seeds and tend to be a bit crisper.
Serves 4. Adapted from blue-kitchen.com
The pink-red color of this gazpacho is amazing! I gave it some kick with a little New Jersey-made Hank Sauce.
12 ounces cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded then coarsely chopped
3 cups strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 scallion, the root end and any dry tips cut off, then coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon hot sauce
Pinch of cayenne
11/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Chive stalks, cut into 3 or 4-inch pieces, for garnish
Place cucumber, strawberries, lime juice, scallion, hot sauce, cayenne, olive oil, and sea salt into a blender or bowl of food processor. Pulse, making sure not to overprocess — you want a coarse texture.
Taste to make sure it has the level of spicy heat you like — add more cayenne or hot sauce, if desired.
Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until it’s time to serve. Put your serving dishes (I used martini glasses, but small bowls also work) into the fridge, too.
To serve, ladle the soup into the chilled glasses or bowls. Garnish by standing 1 or 2 chive stalks in the soup. They will start to droop, but no worries.
Easy Cold Cucumber Soup
Serves 4-6. Gretchen McKay
If you have a blender, you can make this soup in about 2 minutes. I used a combination of fresh parley, dill and mint.
2 cucumbers, peeled and seeds removed, if desired
1 green apple (I used Granny Smith)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup fresh herbs
Juice and zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for
Sea salt and black pepper
Cut off the ends of the cucumbers and core apples. Cut both into small chunks.
Add cucumbers, apple, yogurt, herbs, lime juice and olive oil to a food processor or blender. Blend everything until you have the desired consistency — it should be pretty smooth. If the soup looks too thick, thin with a little water.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more lime juice, if desired. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.
When soup has chilled, portion the soup into pretty glasses or small bowls; or can allow people to serve themselves from a large bowl. The soup is most refreshing when served chilled, though you can also serve it at room temperature.
Just before serving, drizzle a little olive oil on top of the individual portions, and sprinkle over with some fresh herbs.
Curried Cucumber Soup
Serves 4. Gretchen McKay
This vegetarian soup gets a bit of heat from curry powder,
fresh ginger and lemon.
2 tablespoons olive or avocado oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 cucumbers, peeled and seeds removed
8-ounce container Greek yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
2-3 tablespoon fresh mint, coarsely chopped
2-3 tablespoon fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
Pinch or 2 of cumin
Pinch or 2 of turmeric
Salt and pepper, to taste
Thinly sliced cucumber, for garnish
In small skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and curry powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Set aside to cool while you prepare cucumbers.
Chop peeled cucumbers into chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender. Add yogurt, sour cream, mint, parsley, and lemon juice and zest. Blend everything until you have the desired consistency — it should be quite smooth. If the soup looks too thick, thin with a little water.
Add a pinch or two of cumin and turmeric, and give it another whirl to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning to desired spiciness.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.
To serve, ladle the soup into the chilled glasses or bowls and garnish with cucumber slices.