Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Virtues of Cucumbers

I have always loved cucumbers and was delighted to learn that in addition to being refreshing and delicious (and low in calories), they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (like many fruits and vegetables). Moreover, they contain three powerful "lignans" that research indicates can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and several cancer types (breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate.) So I have vowed to eat a cucumber a day. For that reason I have collected a number of ways to consume this virtuous fruit (which, like tomatoes, we tend to think of as a vegetable.) But first some tips about cucumbers:
Cucumber tips
Color: Select cucumbers that are bright medium- to dark green, firm, and rounded at their edges.
Storing: Refrigerate cucumbers.
Skins and seeds: The skins and seeds of cucumbers are both richer in nutrients than the white flesh.
Wax: Cucumber skins are "waxed." Organic cucumbers are waxed naturally and are chemical free, so the skins may be consumed safely. For conventional cucumbers it is better to peel and discard the skins or wash the cucumbers under cool running water while gently scrubbing with a natural-bristle brush.
Removing seeds: The seeds can easily be removed from a cucumber if it is cut lengthwise and the tip of a spoon is used to gently scoop out the seeds; the seeds are the healthiest part of the cucumber, however, so it is better to leave them in.
Removing Bitterness: Cut off one tip of the cucumber. Rub the tip vigorously in a circular motion against the end of the cucumber. If it is bitter a white substance will froth up. Rinse and wipe off and continue rubbing until all has been release. Repeat at the other end. 

Scandinavian Cucumber Salad
These marinated cucumbers retain a summer crispness and serve as a light, fresh complement to meat or fish. The dish is sweet yet vinegary, an unusual combination.


1 cucumber (long English)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
¼ cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley


Wash and peel cucumber. Cut into paper-thin slices. Mix all of the rest of the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved. Place in a container with the cucumber slices. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. If you have any left over, the marinated cucumbers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

French Cucumber Salad


2 long English cucumbers
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¾ cup peanut oil
1 cup crème fraiche, or ½ cup heavy cream mixed with ½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice


Wash and peel cucumber. Cut into paper-thin slices. Make a vinaigrette in a bowl by whisking the vinegar and mustard and adding the oil one third at a time, whisking at each addition. In a separate bowl, mix the cream and slowly add half of the vinaigrette, whisking all the time. When well mixed add the cream mixture to the rest of the vinaigrette. Whisk and add the lemon juice. Place the sliced cucumbers in a serving dish with the cream sauce and mix so that all of the cucumbers slices are covered with the cream sauce.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad


Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                                                                     1 tablespoon red wine vinegar                                                                                                                                          3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil                                                                                                                                 ½ pound Vidalia Onion, chopped
1 pound cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters                                                                                                                         1 pound Kirby cucumbers, peeled and cubed                                                                                                                


In the bottom of a salad bowl, make a vinaigrette by adding salt, pepper and garlic to the vinegar and whisking in the oil one third at a time. Add the onions and mix. Add the cucumbers and tomatoes and mix gently, adding more salt and pepper. Sometimes I add cubed avocado.

Cold Cucumber Soup


2 large English cucumbers, halved and seeded, ½ cup finely diced, the rest coarsely chopped
1½ cups plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove
⅓ cup dill
¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
¼ cup olive oil
Fresh ground white pepper
½ red onion, finely chopped


In a blender, combine the chopped cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, dill, parsley, tarragon and the ¼ cup of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper, cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours, or overnight. Season again with salt and pepper just before serving. In the bowls, garnish with the finely diced cucumber, red onion and a drizzle additional olive oil.

Cucumber Gazpacho with Shrimp Relish

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, chopped
½ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
2 cups quartered grape tomatoes
⅓ cup fresh cilantro
2½ cups chopped English cucumber
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup whole-milk plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Dash of ground red pepper
1 large garlic clove, peeled 

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, cumin, and paprika. Add shrimp to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until done. Stir in tomatoes; remove from heat. Add cilantro. Place remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, cucumber, and remaining ingredients in a blender; process until smooth. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of four bowls; top with ¾ cup relish.

Cucumber–Cream Cheese Hors d'oeuvres


1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
½ cup mayonnaise
1 French baguette, cut into ½-inch-thick circles
1 cucumber, sliced
2 teaspoons of dill


In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, dressing mix and mayonnaise. Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mixture on a slice of bread, and top with a slice of cucumber. Sprinkle with dill. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

The Perfect English Cucumber Sandwich
The English traditionally serve these sandwiches at afternoon tea, but I prefer to accompany them with a glass of Rosé wine. Either way they are cool and lightweight enough not to spoil your appetite for dinner.

½ English cucumber, peeled
6 thin slices white bread
Unsalted butter, at room temperature
White pepper


Cut the cucumber into very thin slices and put in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle lightly with salt and leave for 20 minutes. This will draw out excess liquid.  Rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay out the bread and butter each slice generously. Arrange the cucumber on half the slices, overlapping each round, and sprinkle with ground white pepper. Top with the remaining slices. Pressing down firmly, cut the crusts off, and then cut into triangles. Serve immediately.

Recipes with Teriyaki Marinade

If you really want to, you can mix your own teriyaki marinade (by combining equal parts of water and soy sauce and adding brown sugar, lemon juice, and crushed garlic). Or purchase a ready-made bottle.  It makes for a delicious marinade that works well with pork, beef or chicken.

Grilled Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin
Pour marinade over the pork tenderloin in a fairly small container so the liquid covers the meat. Let it marinate in the fridge for 30–60 minutes (the longer the pork is marinated, the stronger the teriyaki flavor). If the marinade doesn’t fully cover the meat, then flip the pork halfway through the marinating process. Heat up the grill to a medium-high temperature (spray a little cooking oil first to prevent sticking). Grill the pork for about 10–15 minutes on each side, or until the internal temperature reaches 150° F.
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
Place chicken parts (with or without skins and/or bones) and teriyaki marinade in a zip-top plastic bag. Seal bag and shake to coat. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours, turning every few hours. Preheat grill for high heat. Lightly oil the grill grate. Remove chicken from bag, discarding any remaining marinade. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes each side, or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork.
Grilled Teriyaki Salmon
Use 6-ounce boneless salmon fillets with the skin on, at room temperature.  Lightly oil the grate and preheat the grill. Pat the salmon dry, brush both sides with oil and brush the flesh side with some of the marinade. Place the salmon on the grate, skin side down. Baste the salmon with the teriyaki marinade. Cover the grill and cook, occasionally basting with more of the marinade. Cook until the fillets just opaque, about 6-8 minutes. (The salmon should be served rare or medium-rare. Transfer the salmon to plates and drizzle with the additional teriyaki.)

Grilled Teriyaki Flank- or Skirt Steak
Put the steak in a large zip-top bag and pour the marinade in. Seal the bag and turn it in different directions so the marinade is evenly distributed. Put the bag in a baking dish (in case of leaks) and refrigerate for four-plus hours. (For more teriyaki flavor, refrigerate overnight.) Turn the meat over now and then so it marinates evenly. Take the steak out of the refrigerator and out of the marinade about an hour before cooking. Preheat grill (lightly coated with oil). For medium-rare, grill the steak for three minutes on each side. Remove the steak from the grill and tent it with foil to “rest” for five minutes. To serve, cut diagonally in thin slices against the grain.
If you enjoy these recipes on the grill, you can try them in the oven over the winter. They are just as good, but not quite as much fun.

About Marinades

Marinades have two purposes: to tenderize and to enhance the flavor of meat, fish, poultry or even veggies before they are cooked. To my mind, if you have a great steak that is naturally tender and flavorful, it is a culinary crime to marinate it. An average piece of meat, however, can be much improved with a good marinade. To help you master the art of marinating, I have put together a short explanation of how marinades work and a list of "Do's and Don'ts in Marinating."
Tenderizing Ingredients
A marinade must include an acidic component to tenderize the meat. Some of the most popular are:
Citrus juice (Lemon or Orange)
Vinegar (red or white wine, balsamic or cider)
Soy sauce
Prepared salad dressings
Tomatoes and tomato sauce
Teriyaki sauce
Extra virgin olive oil and other oils with emulsifiers
Milk and buttermilk
Pineapple juice
Dry sherry
Worcestershire sauce

Flavoring Ingredients
Bell peppers
Fresh herbs and spices
helps the flavors absorb into fatty tissue. It is best to choose one with high smoke point, as they are the most grill- and flame friendly. In order of highest smoke point:
Safflower oil
Grapeseed oil
Soy or soybean oil
Olive oil
Peanut oil
Sunflower oil
Canola oil

—Onions or sweet ingredients in a marinade can help form caramelized, crispy coatings on grilled meats.
—Always marinate in the refrigerator. At room temperature dangerous bacteria can grow and lead to food illnesses.
Place meat in a glass or food-grade plastic container or a heavy zip-top bag with the air squeezed out, and turn often to be sure all surfaces benefit from the marinade. 
—Marinate vegetables for 15 to 30 minutes.
—Marinate fish and seafood for 15 minutes to one hour.
—Marinate poultry for 30 minutes to 3 hours.
—Marinate beef or lamb for at least 30 minutes or as much as overnight.
—Use ¼ cup of marinade per pound of meat.

—Do not marinate very large, thick cuts of meat; they often end up with a mushy exterior and a tough, chewy center.
—Do not puncture the meat to help the marinade penetrate. It gives an uneven result and allows the meat's natural juices to run out during cooking, making the meat dry. 

—Don't use much salt in the marinade. Salt will draw moisture out of your meat, causing it to dry out and prevent flavor from absorbing in. Salt should be added later.
—Do not reuse marinades. Marinades are in contact with raw ingredients, which may contain harmful bacteria. Always discard your marinade after use.
—Don't marinate in metal containers. Metal can react chemically with the acids in the marinade and cause a change in flavor.
—Don't over-marinate fish. Fish is naturally quite tender and can become mushy if marinated too long. Keep marinating times for seafood between 15 minutes and one hour.
—Do not freeze meats in their marinade. Prolonged exposure to the acids in the marinade combined with damage from ice crystals can cause meat to become mushy.