Image: Getty / Archi Banal
Image: Getty / Archi Banal

KaiJanuary 27, 2023

Ingredient of the week: Cucumber

Image: Getty / Archi Banal
Image: Getty / Archi Banal

More water than anything else, the cucumber is the perfect counter to intense and fiery flavours. 

Cucumber is without a doubt the most refreshing vegetable*, the antidote to hot summer days. At 95% water, a cucumber is basically an edible, crunchy, waste-free water bottle. Beside water, the cucumber has almost nothing in it – it’s 4% carbs, 1% protein, and there’s a little sprinkle of vitamin K (good for making sure you don’t bleed uncontrollably).

To cut through the vision of cucumbers as a rather elegant veg (delicate slices over eyelids during a facial, a sleek ribbon floating in a jar of mint-infused iced water, cucumber martinis), Wikipedia informs me that seedless cucumbers are often marketed as “burpless”, because other cukes supposedly give some people flatulence.

* Cucumbers are one of those vegetables that’s technically a fruit. If we were talking about cucumber in the world of fruit, watermelon would, of course, be giving it a run for its juicy-crunchy-refreshment money.

Where to find them

Cucumber season is nigh, and everyone pretty much agrees on how much they’re worth. At New World, Pak’nSave and Countdown, you’re doling out $2.99 for a telegraph cuke, with Supie’s telegraphs at $2.50 each and Pak’nSave offering two for $5. Countdown is also offering a mysteriously named “fresh vegetable cucumbers green” for $2.99, which I’m guessing is also simply a telegraph.

Lebanese cucumbers, which are sweeter and more fruity in flavour, thicker skinned and larger seeded, are a bit cheaper. New World’s are $1.49, and Countdown’s are $1.79. I love that Lebanese cucumbers usually avoid being plastic-covered due to their thicker skin, but their sweetness does make them slightly less refreshing.

How to make them terrible

It’s hard to prepare a cucumber in a way that’s terrible, but you can grow one so that it becomes terrible. Last summer I grew some cucumbers for the first time (out of an old, little blue recycling bin – remember those? It worked a treat), and it was a shock education for someone who’s used to buying veg at the supermarket.

Cucumbers have prickles, and I mean ouchy hurt-your-fingers ones. I had to rub the prickles off with a tea towel before I could handle them, and then when I finally sliced them up and took a bite: the taste of nail polish remover. The internet says “overripe cucumbers taste bitter”, but “bitter” does not cover it. This was the taste of poison.

Cucumbers taste bitter when levels of a compound called cucurbitacin (ha!) soar, which can happen when you underwater cucumbers during hot spells. So I made my own cucumbers terrible, and now you don’t have to.

How to make them amazing

Oh – there are just so many ways to enjoy a cucumber. On its own is great, or cut into sticks and dipped into hummus. Sliced thinly and arranged between slices of fluffy white bread with lashes of butter and a sprinkle of salt. When grated and mixed with natural yoghurt, you’ve got the base for raita or tzatziki.

You can quick pickle ribboned cucumber in warm water, vinegar, salt and sugar, and add it to a sushi bowl or stuff it inside bánh mì. Cucumber is also a key ingredient in zesty, herby larb, which is in my opinion a perfect meal.

Larb: the perfect meal. (All photos: Wyoming Paul)

I also love a Chinese smashed cucumber salad, both because you get to smack a cucumber with a mallet or rolling pin until it cracks (therapeutic), and because it’s a delicious, easy side.

Smashed cucumber is cheap therapy and great in a Chinese salad.

The quick smashed cucumber recipe: smack the cucumber all over with a rolling pin until it has plenty of cracks (for absorbing more flavour), then chop it into bite-size pieces. Toss with a drizzle of sesame oil, soy sauce, and half a teaspoon each of minced garlic and ginger, then leave in the fridge to chill and soak up all the lovely flavours for about 30 minutes. I serve mine with Japanese karaage chicken – not because they’re meant to be together in terms of cuisines, but because they are both very, very delicious.

For something a little more creative, blend cucumber with fresh tomatoes, green capsicum, red onion, garlic, olive oil and a dash of red wine vinegar to make gazpacho. Put some cucumber circles over your eyelids and chill while the soup chills in the fridge, then consume with fresh bread for the lightest and most refreshing of summer meals.

Gazpacho, the soup of summer.

Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, a meal kit alternative.

Read all the previous Ingredients of the Week here.

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