The fruits of summer in South Carolina: peaches, watermelons, blackberries, cantaloupes and ………cucumbers?
Yes, cucumbers! Cucumbers are considered a fruit; in the same family as gourds which also include muskmelons. Those of you who planted gardens this year may be overflowing with cucumbers, as are we here at South Carolina. This month I thought we’d talk a little about this fruit and all its amazing uses.
The cucumber (cucumis sativus) originated in India and is one of our oldest cultivated food crops. Records exist of cucumbers being grown, served and eaten in ancient times throughout Asia and the Middle East. By the time of the Roman Empire they were well established in Europe. Throughout most of history cucumbers were eaten fully ripened, but nowadays we tend to enjoy then earlier, when they are still green. That’s right --- those yellow cucumbers you have in your garden which you forgot to pick aren’t actually overgrown; they are in fact just getting ripe. Cucumbers come in a dazzling array of colors and sizes from tiny green Gherkins to lemon-like in shape and color and all the way to the long greenhouse types we see in the specialty produce sections of the super market. They are classified into 3 main types: burpless (with small tender seeds and more delicate skins and flesh), slicing (like we use for salads), and pickling (which tend to grow to a uniform size and ripen around the same time for convenient processing).
Most people think of cucumbers as having 2 basic uses – sliced on salads and pickled. Nothing could be simpler (and perhaps more enjoyable) than a fresh cool cucumber peeled or unpeeled, sliced or cubed, with red, ripe tomatoes and lettuce topped with a little dressing. There are volumes of books on food preservation and the art of pickling with many different recipes. Many people use a family recipe, handed down from one generation to another. At our restaurant we also pickle cucumbers and slice them for salads, but with such a large surplus we have been exploring some of the other ways to use the fruit. We thought we’d share some of these with you.
Cooking… yes, cucumbers can be cooked and are delicious prepared this way. Cooking cucumbers is quite simple. First, peel and de-seed, then cut cucumbers into the desired shape and size; next, sauté them in a little butter with salt and some fresh herbs. Cooked cucumbers are quite delicious and are a classic accompaniment to mild fish preparations throughout Europe. So if you’re looking for something to do when the family fisherman comes home with a big catch, prepare an easy one-pan meal of lightly cooked fish and cukes in a little butter. Cucumbers also make wonderfully refreshing summer soups and the internet abounds with recipes to choose from in both hot and cold versions.
Drinks… cucumbers make an amazing contribution to all kinds of beverages. A slice in a glass of ice water is a fantastically refreshing alternative to lemon. Many preparations of cucumbers call for lightly salting the fruits to remove some of the water content, since they are almost 90% water. Saving the water allows you to freeze this extracted cucumber juice into cubes which can then be added to Ice water for a subtle addition or mixed with a little sugar and frozen into a sorbet (see recipe below). The classic English “Pims Cup” cocktail, a combination of Pims liquor and lemon/lime soda over ice with a strip of cucumber has been around for almost a century.
Pickles… sure we’ve all had bread and butter or dill pickles, but around the world people use different methods. Russians make a type of sour dill pickle with lots of dill and other herbs which they serve with vodka as a traditional chaser. Koreans salt the sliced fruits, and then marinate them with soy and sugar along with other ingredients to make one of the tastiest salad/side dishes you’ve ever had. Chef Raffaele Dall'Erta is currently serving his version of this dish with seared striped bass. It’s one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever tasted!
Here we offer two recipes - one for the Korean salad and the other for our cucumber martini. Of course if you don’t feel like making them at home just stop by Hamptons and we’ll be happy to prepare them for you!
(An amazingly refreshing summer cocktail.)
For the cucumber Ice:
3 unpeeled cucumbers, seeds removed
¼ cup extracted cucumber juice (see Korean Cucumber recipe)
¾ cup simple syrup (or ½ cup corn syrup + ½ cup sugar)
Juice from 3 lemons
2 sprigs of fresh dill
2 egg whites
Puree the cucumbers in a blender and strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Whip the egg whites until frothy, and then combine all ingredients and mix until smooth. Taste and season with salt to taste.
Pour ingredients into an ice cream machine and process or alternatively freeze mix into ice cube trays.
For the cocktail:
In a Cocktail shaker
Add a 1.5 oz shot of cucumber flavored vodka or gin (Effen or Hendricks) – use regular if unavailable.
Add either 3 frozen cubes or 2 small scoops of your frozen cucumber mix and shake vigorously. Then strain and pour into chilled Martini glasses and garnish with a cucumber slice. The drink should have the consistency of a barely frozen slushy.
Pan Seared Striped Bass with Korean Style Cucumber Salad (serves 4)
Four 6 oz. filets of striped bass (substitute any moist, fairly firm and flavorful white fleshed fish with medium to large flakes.)
Season filets with salt and pepper, then sear fish on both sides until crispy and cooked through.
For the Cucumbers:
5 med size cucumbers (note Koreans traditionally use fully ripened – yellow cucumber s for this dish, we make it with green ones here at Hamptons – the choice is yours)
1bunch of cilantro - roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
½ table spoon red pepper flakes
1 table spoon sesame oil
2 table spoon soy sauce
1 table spoon toasted sesame seeds
2 table spoon of rice vinegar
Slice cucumber into rounds and sprinkle with salt, allow them to drain in a colander over the sink for 30-45 minutes, and then squeeze the excess water from the slices.
Sweat onions in a sauté pan until translucent in tbl spoon of canola oil. Add all ingredients together with each other in a large bowl then season to taste with the salt and sugar until a sweet-sour flavor profile is achieved.
Place a small mound of the cucumber salad in the center of the plate and rest a filet on top then serve.