There’s a reason why you always see cucumber slices floating in those enormous water dispensers at spas or as a DIY puffy-eye remedy. Mostly made of water, cucumbers are naturally cooling.
Plus they have a fresh, clean taste, which is perfect for summertime recipes.
I’ll admit, until recently I’ve not bought and eaten cucumbers as much as I probably should have. But when I saw them on sale at three for $1 at my local grocer not long ago, I wanted to experiment and see how many ways I could use them.
My dad used to make refrigerator pickles with cucumbers — simply vinegar, sugar and salt, cooked then cooled, with slices of cucumber added along with sprigs of fresh dill. They were always kept on the top shelf inside of our avocado-green fridge, in a repurposed Peter Pan peanut butter jar, next to the sun tea. Mom always served them with barbecued chicken and a chunky potato salad she’d make with hardboiled eggs and bacon. The chilly, crisp slices were a perfect contrast to the spicy, still-hot chicken.
Turns out, whatever you do with cucumbers will have the same cooling effect. For this article, I worked with the traditional, easiest-to-find cukes (also the cheapest), but English cucumbers, which don’t need to be seeded, could be swapped out in any of these recipes below. The Cucumber, tomato and corn salad would be even crunchier with Persian cucumbers, which are now pretty easy to find, and don’t need peeling or seeding.
Right now, I’m all about making cold soups, and I loved how the cucumber and roasted peaches complimented each other in my new riff on gazpacho. You can skip the roasting if you have ripe peaches, but mine were too firm, so I roasted them to bring out the sugars, and it worked like a charm. Bright in color and flavor, I loved how the cucumber helped cool this cold soup down even further. The salad, with chunks of cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and corn, is a celebration of summer in a bowl, and the slightly garlicky, herby yogurt sauce — a close cousin of raita — turns this simple salad into something exotic. It would also be nice stuffed into a toasted pita, and eaten poolside. For super-fast suppers or lunches, the Cucumber and avocado tartine is easy and elegant, and not the same old boring cream cheese business that we grew up with. In the recipe, I call for a last minute drizzle of olive oil, but if you have pistachio oil on hand —worth every penny — use that instead. Finally, I hate to admit to having favorites, but this is definitely my No. 1 recipe of the batch — a recipe for a cold Thai noodle salad using julienned raw cucumbers and carrots instead of soba or any other kind of noodle. Sometimes things turn out even better than I imagine, and this is one of them. I made this, photographed it, then gobbled it up, thinking about when I’ll make it again. And it’s totally easy. No oven required. Which is another great way to stay cool when it’s 100-plus degrees.
Now, back to that by-the-pool idea. I’ve got my sunscreen, hat, and a stack of books to read. Who’s with me?
Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press). Read her blog (www.cowgirlchef.com), and follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram (cowgirlchef).
Roasted peach and cucumber gazpacho
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 peaches, medium-firm
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1/3 cup for soup
Sea salt and pepper
3 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup raw almonds, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
12 mint leaves, chopped, plus more for serving
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the peaches, remove the pits, and put them insides-up on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and lightly sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes or until soft. Let cool.
2. Put the peaches (with skins) along with the rest of the ingredients in a blender. Blend on high for a few minutes or until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours or overnight. Before serving, taste again and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve in bowls with chopped mint, almonds, and a swirl of olive oil.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 373 calories, 30 grams fat, 23 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 72 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 70 percent of calories from fat.
Cucumber, tomato and corn salad with yogurt sauce
Makes 4 servings
1 small garlic clove
1 cup Greek or full-fat yogurt
1/4 jalapeño, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint, plus more for serving
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Cucumber, tomato and corn salad:
2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded and cut in 1-inch chunks
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ear of corn, kernels removed
1. Make the yogurt sauce. Grate the garlic clove with a microplane and put it into a small bowl along with the yogurt, jalapeño, lemon juice, herbs, and sea salt and pepper to taste. Taste, then refrigerate for at least an hour. Taste again before serving.
2. Put the chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and corn in a medium serving bowl. Right before serving, add some of the yogurt sauce and toss. Add additional chopped dill and mint for garnish.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 99 calories, 3 grams fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 39 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 24 percent of calories from fat.
Cucumber and carrot noodle Thai salad
Makes 2 servings
2 large cucumbers, peeled
2 large carrots, peeled
Peanut sauce, recipe follows
1/4 cup chopped peanuts for serving
A handful chopped cilantro for serving
Limes for serving
1. With a julienne slicer or spiralizer, make noodles out of the cucumbers. Put them in a colander to drain.
2. Make noodles out of the carrots, too. Put these in a bowl. Before adding the cucumber noodles, put them in a paper towel and squeeze out any excess moisture. Add to the bowl and toss with the carrots. Drizzle peanut sauce on top, add crushed peanuts and cilantro, and serve, with limes on the side.
Nutritional analysis per serving, without Peanut sauce: 184 calories, 10 grams fat, 20 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, no cholesterol, 42 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber, 43 percent of calories from fat.
Makes about 1 cup
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings. Will keep in the fridge for a week.
Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving: 26 calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 138 milligrams cholesterol, trace dietary fiber, 68 percent of calories from fat.
Cucumber and avocado tartines
4 slices grainy bread
4 ounces goat cheese
4 tablespoons crushed pistachios
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1. Toast the bread, and divide the goat cheese among the 4 slices.
2. Peel and thinly slice the cucumber and lay the slices on top of the goat cheese.
3. Halve the avocado, remove the pit and slice. Put one-fourth of the avocado slices on each tartine, fanning them slightly. Add a drizzle of olive oil, crushed pistachios, and sea salt and pepper.
Nutritional analysis per tartine: 380 calories, 28 grams fat, 21 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 253 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 64 percent of calories from fat.