Cucumbers, also called concombres in French or "cukes" in cooks' shorthand. Cucumbers are a type of summer squash. They have thin, green edible skin, white flesh, and often many watery seeds. Cucumbers are long and cylindrical in shape, sometimes growing curved or even curly. Botanically, cucumbers are fruits like other types of squash but we use them like a vegetables in the culinary sense and almost always in savoury dishes.
Types of Cucumbers
Cucumber varieties are grown depending on their culinary use; slicing, pickling or seedless (burpless). You may have heard of English cucumbers which are long, fairly straight with few seeds. Kirby cucumbers are popular for pickling. In Canada, we grow varieties like; Greensleeves, Raider, Straight Eight, Sweet Success, Orient Express, Bush Champion and Pot luck.
Cucumbers originated in the Himalayas "where it once grew wild" (Larousse Gastronomique p 283). Now, cucumbers are commonly cultivated all over the world. In Canada, they grow in our backyards and in hothouses year round.
"Cool as a cucumber" is a common expression--cucumbers are almost always served refreshingly chilled and are known to be cooling to the body when consumed. (Similar to eating watermelon on a hot summer's day.)
The fruit from wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is actually inedible! It grows in North America and has a history of medicinal uses. (Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada p 159)
Ways to Cook
Cucumbers are almost always eaten raw but they are delicious cooked! How did the character Julie in the movie Julie and Julia about the American celebrity chef Julia Child put it? "They're a revelation!"
Cucumber salads, often with tomatoes and onions have variations from all over the world: Greek salad, Israeli salad, Persian Shirazi salad, Thai tomato and cucumber salad, Chinese cucumber and tomato salad...it's a classic combination that never gets old.
Sometimes cucumbers are peeled for elegance, or because sometimes the peel can taste quite bitter.
Everyone has their favourite pickle, right? Just take a stroll down the grocery aisle and we see dills pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, hamburger relish, Kosher pickles, gherkins and more. In North America we use the word "pickle" when referring to pickled cucumbers but as we know, we can pickle all sorts of vegetables and fruits. We also refer to "relish" like the bright green type that is on hamburger stands but relish can be made with a entire variety of foods too.
What to do with the seeds and skins? Try infusing it in water along with mint leaves or turn it into a refreshing mocktail or cocktail!