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5 ways to use cucumbers, from salads to sandwiches – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

For many cooks, cucumbers are an afterthought: Throw a few slices next to a simple taco or a rich stew and call it a day.
Others are pretty much, “Oooh, cucumbers!”
I am of the latter persuasion and have been enjoying cucumbers since I was a little girl.
Along the way, I picked up a useful tip that has nothing to do with the bright refreshing crispness a cucumber brings to our palate. It also works wonders on inflamed eyes. In 1997, I was away more than I was at home, and part of my travels included a 38-city book tour in the U.S.
Some hotel rooms are overheated, and my body responds with a swollen face and swollen eyes. When you have to show up at a TV studio at 6 a.m., this poses a real problem. One night, as panic began to creep in, I called room service and asked if they could send up a plate of sliced and chilled cucumbers. They did.
After about half an hour in bed with the cucumber slices covering my eyes, the swelling receded, my skin returned to its normal color, and I felt ready to meet the day.
Thank you, cucumbers.
They are delicious, too, and are at their peak locally. When it comes to enjoying a cucumber as you would eat an apple, like I do, it is best to do so with any variety other than the ubiquitous slicing cucumber, with its waxed skin and plentiful seeds.
Cucumber raita is served with most Indian meals; it’s a cooling counterpoint to the earthy richness and spiciness of the cuisine. Tzatziki, made with a generous amount of fresh garlic, plays a similar role in Greek cuisine.
Makes about 2 ½ cups
2 Armenian or Persian cucumbers, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
Kosher salt
1 serrano, stemmed, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
1 ½ cups local whole-milk yogurt, such as Straus
Black pepper in a mill
Put the cucumber into a strainer, sprinkle with salt and stir gently. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring now and then. Rinse in cool water. Shake, rinse again and shake well.
Tip into a medium bowl.
Fold in the cucumbers, serrano, cilantro and cumin and toss gently. Stir in the yogurt, season with several turns of black pepper, taste and correct for salt.
Enjoy right away or store, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Stir well before serving.
When you plant lemon cucumbers in your garden, they can suddenly come on so fast that it is hard to keep up. This simple salad makes a great side dish with any meal.
Serves 3 to 4
4 or 5 lemon cucumbers
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
Juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
If the lemon cucumbers have unblemished skins, wash them thoroughly, dry them and cut them in half. Cut each cucumber half into ⅛-inch thick slices. Put them in a shallow serving bowl. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar, lime juice and red pepper flakes and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and let sit for 30 minutes before serving.
Cucumber sandwiches get a bad rap as prissy and insubstantial. It’s too bad, as they are both delicious and refreshing. Need convincing? Try the ones at Water Street Bistro (100 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma); they may convince you to make them at home.
Serves 3 to 4
1 package (5 ounces) fresh chevre, such as chabis, at room temperature
6 – 8 ounces Gina Marie cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh snipped chives
Kosher salt
Black pepper in a mill
6 – 8 slices bread, such as dark rye or sourdough rye, lightly toasted
1 good cucumber, such as homegrown Armenian or Taste Jade, thinly sliced
Put the chevre and cream cheese in a medium bowl, add the chives and use a fork to mix together thoroughly. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the surface of each slice of toast. Top half the slices with cucumber, season with salt and set a piece of bread, cheese side down, on top. Cut in half and serve immediately.
The first time I had sunomono, the cucumber salad that often accompanies a Japanese meal, was at what may have been Sonoma County’s first Japanese restaurant. It was in downtown Cotati, where the French-Algerian bistro, A Chez Nous, had been. The salad is simple, delicious, refreshing and deeply satisfying. Some versions have just the cucumbers; others have a range of additions. Cellophane noodles are my favorite.
Makes 4 to 6 Servings
2 cucumbers, preferably Japanese or Armenian, washed and very thinly sliced
Kosher salt
2 ounces mung bean (cellophane) noodles
½ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Toasted sesame oil
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 scallions, trimmed and cut into thin diagonal slices
1 teaspoon lightly toasted sesame seeds
Put the cucumbers into a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt, toss and set aside.
Put the noodles into a medium bowl, cover with hot water and let rest until the noodles turn clear and tender. Tip into a strainer, press out as much moisture as possible and transfer to a serving bowl. Set aside.
Put the vinegar, sugar and soy sauce into a small bowl, add the red pepper flakes, stir and taste. Correct for acid, sugar and salt balance. Set aside.
Tip the cucumbers into a strainer, press off any liquid that has formed, rinse and press again.
Add the cucumbers to the bowl with the noodles, pour the dressing over everything, cover and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.
To serve, scatter the scallions and sesame seeds on top and enjoy right away.
A dear friend showed up at my door with this salad, in an old glass jar. It was so good, to the last drop of dressing. The salad is best right after it is made, but it keeps for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator. If you do save it, be sure to let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving it; give it a stir and correct for salt and acid as needed.
Makes 3 to 4 servings
8 – 10 small potatoes, thinly sliced
2 thin cucumbers, preferably Armenian or Tasty Jade variety, very thinly sliced
½ Walla Walla or other sweet onion, very thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Black pepper in a mill
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until they are tender, about 6 to 7 minutes. Drain them thoroughly, put them in a wide shallow bowl and let cool for 15 minutes. Add the cucumber and onion, season with salt and pepper and toss gently. Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar and toss again. Taste the salad. If it seems too dry, add a little more olive oil; add a little more salt to balance the acid. Season again with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature.
Add 1 cup sliced quartered tomatoes to the salad, along with the cucumbers.
Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Oil & Vinegar.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.
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