Cool as a Cucumber

Beyond cool, Ottolenghi´s Cucumber salad with brown butter croutons
Cucumber sandwiches: are you a fan, or are they a silly Victorian affectation that deserves to go the way of the top hat and the whalebone corset? And if not, what do you like to do with this most refreshing of summer crops? My grandmother told me never to peel a cucumber,for the sake of the family´s digestion (being the "refined lady" that she wasI think she meant wind).I still don´t to this day,unless the skin is knobbled or notably coarse,because I prefer cucumber that way,and as you well know I cannot bear to waste anything edible.There seem to be plenty of people out there whose grandmothers told them the opposite,who never ate a cucumber without peeling it first for precisely the same reason that I was told to peel mine.With a burpless cucumber, I suppose it does not matter.One should be guided by recipe and the occasion.

Cucumber sandwiches for Lady Bracknell, obviously must contain peeled slices of cucumber, whereas a dish making use of boiled cucumber"boats" requires that the skins should be left in place.One moot point is whether, like aubergines, to salt cucumber slices in advance,in the French manner (again I think this brings us back to the flatulence issue),or to leave them be.You could I suppose adopt the half practice of peeling them downwards in strips, or take a heavy pronged fork and pull the tines down the length of the beast.This makes an attractive edging,less lumpy than the plain peel and less wasteful than the denuded style. Then again I have always thought life´s too short to carve a radish and throw it in iced water to make it look like rose, so why try and zhoosh up a cucumber.Next up, whether to salt or not to salt,the answer is simple,it´s entirely up to you.Travel and immigration,pre-pandemic, opened our eyes to the cucumber´s possibilities.Sweet-sour dill pickles from Poland,Oh! as an expat what I would give my eyes teeth to get my hands on a jar of Mrs Elswood right now.Package holidays to Spain and Portugal brought gazpacho home to a wider audience and lovely cucumber and yoghurt salads reminded us of sunny times spent in Greek, Turkish and Cypriot tavernas.The French taught us how to cook lovely creamy dishes like cucumber vichysoisse, as well as Doria cucumber garnish for sole or other fish.This all seems a long way from cucumber sliced thickly into rather boring salads, and cucumber with salmon that was all that many people knew of back in the Thirties.

Yogurt-based cucumber soup

Creamy, herby and drinkable,ready after a few minutes in the blender
When it’s too hot to cook,you can opt for a liquid lunch.A platable option when it’s too hot to chew is a long, vast tradition of chilled soups to choose from. Be they gazpachos, borscht, or a creamy, yogurt-based cucumber soup seasoned with garlic and herbs, there are few summer lunches as cooling and satisfying.
To make enough cucumber-yogurt soup for three or four, cut a pound of cucumbers into rough chunks. If you can find cucumbers with thin, unwaxed skins and small seeds — hothouse, Persian or Kirby work well — you don’t need to peel or seed them first. Otherwise, peel and seed at your discretion.
Put the chunks in a blender with 1½ cups plain yogurt (Greek or regular) and a splash of milk or water, if you like a thinner, brothier, more drinkable soup. You could also use buttermilk or kefir without the water.
Add ½ cup soft herbs (dill, basil, mint, parsley, tarragon, chives or a combination), 2 spring onions (or ¼ cup sliced red onion or shallot), 1 peeled garlic clove, and ½ teaspoon each kosher salt and sherry or white wine vinegar.
This is your base. You could whirl it up as is, garnish bowls with some good olive oil and flaky salt, and have a lovely, simple meal.
Or you could go further, adding a few seasonings and garnishes to deepen the flavours. To the blender, you can add any or all of these, to suit your predilections: 1 to 2 anchovy fillets, half of a seeded jalapeño or other fresh chilli, a large pinch of ground cumin or coriander, a small pinch of cayenne, a squeeze of lime juice and some grated zest. Play around, tasting as you go. Cold soup is forgiving.
Ottolenghi Cucumber salad with brown butter croutons 
( pictured above ) 
Fun playful cucumber salads are everywhere at the moment but this one is the icing on the cuke.It is a play on a traditional cucumber sandwich, but in salad form, incorporating its three key components: cucumber, bread and butter.

Prep 15 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4 as a side
65g unsalted butter
150g soft white bread
(about 3-4 slices), crusts removed and discarded, cut into roughly 2cm cubes

Salt and black pepper
25g parsley leaves
, roughly chopped

15g dill leaves, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
90ml olive oil
5 Lebanese cucumbers
(or 2 English cucumbers), cut in half lengthways, seeds removed, then cut at an angle into rough 2-3cm chunks (620g net weight)

1 lemon – zest finely grated, to get 1½ tsp, and juiced, to get 1½ tbsp
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat and, once melted, stir regularly for three or four minutes, until the butter is browned and nutty, then turn off the heat.
Spread out the bread cubes on a medium oven tray lined with baking paper, scatter with a quarter-teaspoon of salt, then pour the browned butter over the top. Toss to coat, then bake for 10 minutes, tossing once halfway, until golden and starting to crisp up, then remove to cool completely and crisp up further.
Meanwhile, make a herb oil by blitzing the parsley, dill, garlic, oil, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper in a food processor, until smooth.
When ready to serve, put the cucumber in a large bowl with the herb oil, lemon zest and juice, a third of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and toss until everything is well coated. Add the croutons, toss again, then transfer to a platter and eat right away, while the croutons are still crunchy.


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