If the idea of cooking a cucumber makes you cringe, read on
There’s more to this fruit than slicing them for a salad
Cucumbers came very late to Ireland. Photograph: iStock
Why is it that the thought of cooking a cucumber makes some of us cringe? Is it just habit that causes most of us to treat this fruit as a salad? Surely there is more to do with cucumbers than just slicing them? As we approach cucumber season, perhaps it is time to re-think the way we treat this fruit.
In cultivation terms, cucumbers are classified into three main cultivar groups: slicing, pickling and burpless. We are all familiar with slicing cucumbers – these are the long green ones we encounter on the supermarket shelves.
Of course, these are good for slicing, but they’re also great for grilling or frying. I love to cook them on a griddle pan, so you get nice char marks. Simply heat the pan and half the cucumber lengthwise. Place on the pan, seed side down, and grill until nicely charred. You can turn the cucumber 45 degrees to get a criss-cross pattern, but don’t grill on its green side.
Remove from the grill and dress with an extra virgin oil and some type of acidity (lemon, lime or vinegar). Finish with some flaky sea salt. If you cut the grilled cucumber into wedges it works well with a salty cheese, such as feta. You’ll find a few nice Irish-style fetas in your cheesemongers.
Though any cucumber can be pickled, a pickling cucumber is a smaller one, usually about seven to 10cm long and 2.5cm wide. Compared to slicers, picklers tend to be shorter, thicker, less regularly shaped, and have bumpy skin with tiny white or black-dotted spines. I find these ones with the bumpy skin great for slicing and grilling also. Diced and mixed with yoghurt and wild garlic they make a great sauce for lamb.
Gherkins are another thing entirely, though they are a cucumber, just smaller again than a slicer or a pickler. The word gherkin derived in the mid-17th century from early modern Dutch gurken or augurken for “small pickled cucumber”. Cucumbers came very late to Ireland. Perhaps this is why we’ve yet to make soup or cake from them, as other nationalities do?