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Cool as a cucumber: Reaping rewards of an early summer vegetable garden

Cucumbers, whether fresh from the garden or grocery, are versatile vegetables. Cuckes are refreshing in a cucumber and onion salad. Use them sliced to present a favorite dip or spread or cut deep rounds to make cups for salsa.
Cucumbers, whether fresh from the garden or grocery, are versatile vegetables. Cuckes are refreshing in a cucumber and onion salad. Use them sliced to present a favorite dip or spread or cut deep rounds to make cups for salsa. sardis@thestate.com

This is a celebration of my first picked cucumbers of the season!

The three oversized pots that I have contain two plants each and every plant has been covered in blooms for the past couple of weeks. With all of the rain lately, the baby cukes have taken off on a growing binge. I was able to pick four beautiful specimens over the weekend.

The first one picked, of course, is always the ceremonious “Share with Dad” cucumber where I just wash it off, slice it down the middle, sprinkle with salt and he and I enjoy munching the fresh cuke while sitting in the back yard watching the dogs run. Or, as it happened, watch my dog beg for the cucumber.

This year, I planted a variety called the “Straight 8” in two pots and a pot with a generic pickling cucumber. My sister saved some seeds from her last year’s crop of heritage white cucumbers and is growing a bunch of those in a raised bed. Those plants are in bloom but the cukes on those vines haven’t quite reached the picking stage.

My Straight 8s are doing quite well, so far. This variety is crispy and crunchy without too many seeds and has a medium-to-dark green skin. And like the name implies, are the perfect size at or just under eight inches long.

I do worry a bit though. What if all of my sister’s cucumbers and mine become ready to pick at the same time? I mean, besides pickling, what is something creative that you can do with a cucumber?

My dad loves a cucumber and onion salad, which is really just one form of a quick pickle. You thinly slice one or two cucumbers (either unpeeled or peeled and seeded, if you prefer) and thinly slice one medium sweet onion. Put the cuke and onion together in a non-reactive bowl, sprinkle with salt and your choice of vinegar (apple cider, white or rice wine). Toss everything together and chill about 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

If you have some cucumbers that haven’t grown too curly, or if you have an English or hothouse cuke, you can make “cucumber cups” for serving just about anything. To make the cups, slice the cucumber into about 1- to 11/2-inch portions, scoop out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller, be careful not to go all the way through, leaving a base to form the cup. These little cups are great for serving appetizers or healthy treats for the kids, just load them up with your favorite fillings. Some suggestions: tomato salsa; feta cheese and mint; a combination of bits of crispy bacon, your favorite cheese (blue cheese, cheddar or goat) and a drizzling of balsamic vinegar; your favorite dip (homemade or store-bought: French onion or smoked salmon or spinach); red pepper or spicy hummus; really, anything you want.

Responsible adults may enjoy using the cups like an edible shot glass for gin or vodka with fresh mint. Wimbledon is coming up in a month – a chilled Pimm’s anyone?

If you think making the cups is too time consuming, cutting the cucumber into diagonal slices and then smearing a dip or stacking ingredients on top can work just as well. You could even cut longer strips of the cucumber to use as wraps for other fresh vegetables (julienned carrots, shredded cabbage, etc.) or steamed crab, turkey cold cuts, tofu or chilled sauteed shrimp.

What a cool and easy – and tasty way – to enjoy first-of-the-season cucumbers!


Smoked Salmon Spread

Makes about 2 cups

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 ounces sour cream

6 ounces smoked salmon (or any smoked fish)

1 medium shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons capers, minced

Mix everything together in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.

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