As the days grow longer and warmer, one of the most pleasing treats to come from the farm and garden is the cucumber. With its crisp, refreshing texture and mild, soothing flavor, this member of the gourd family is one of the most versatile vegetables around.
Most people enjoy cucumbers in one of two ways: sliced raw in salads or pickled in spiced vinegar. But that barely begins to explore the possibilities they offer to cooks.
Have you ever tried cooking them? Briefly sauteing the pieces of the vegetable in hot olive oil or butter makes it taste even juicier, while intensifying its flavor, providing a wonderful side dish for mild-tasting proteins like fish or chicken.
How about cucumber desserts? I've encountered delicious recipes for sorbets made with cucumber and maybe a complementary ingredient such as pineapple or fresh mint. Just imagine how refreshing that might taste on a hot summer day.
And, speaking of refreshment, don't forget the role cucumber can play in beverages. A spear of cucumber is a classic part of the English summer cocktail known as a Pimm's Cup. And many spas simply steep slices of the vegetable in pitchers of cold water to make thirst-quenching cucumber water.
I like to make use of the cucumber's subtle flavor and vibrant color in yet another way: as the foundation for a sauce. In the recipe I share here, the sauce, made with the thickly peeled edible skins of cucumbers, accompanies quickly pan-seared sea scallops dusted with curry powder. You can easily imagine how wonderfully the vegetable's cooling qualities counterpoint the hot spices. (It's interesting, by the way, that the cool cucumber originated in the Indian subcontinent, also home to hot curry spices.)
Not so long ago, stores offered limited choices in cucumbers. Often, you'd find only one type: large, plump-looking vegetables with thick, usually bitter skins you had to peel, and large seeds many people scooped out before slicing what was left into crescent shapes. Today, so-called English or hothouse cucumbers are more widely available, often sold individually shrink-wrapped to preserve their freshness. These longer, more slender specimens have thin, pleasant-tasting skins you can leave on, and smaller seeds. And then there are the wonderful types from the Middle East such as Persian, Armenian, or Lebanese cucumbers, all small and slender, with delicately aromatic flavors.
Whatever variety you buy, select specimens that are firm, with no soft spots or wrinkled skins that may indicate they're less than fresh. Store them in the refrigerator's vegetable bin, either in their original plastic shrink-wrap or, otherwise, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag. Use within a week of purchase.
I hope you'll find many ways to enjoy cucumbers in your own cooking this season.
SEARED CURRIED SCALLOPS WITH CUCUMBER SAUCE
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