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Cool yer cucumbers!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The expression “cool as a cucumber” had no choice but to exist. The cooler, the better, in fact. But even a warm cucumber, freshly picked, can be gloriously refreshing in the middle of a hot field. The impossibility of a cucumber gathering that amount of water and stashing it is as cool as the hydration itself.

People make a big deal about the different kinds of tomatoes they can buy during the hot days of summer, but the same can be said for cucumbers. The differences are more subtle, but no less enjoyable. Variations in flavor, water content, crisp and how it explodes in your mouth all add up to myriad gastronomic experiences. And unlike tomatoes, which give me heartburn, I can eat cucumbers all day. A tall, crunchy drink of water that’s loaded with vitamins is always welcome.

It’s no surprise cucumbers are considered a physiologically “cooling” food in the Aryuvedic medical philosophy of India, where the plant is thought to have first been cultivated. One sure-fire way to be cooled by a cucumber is to cool your cucumbers first. With all due respect to the quenching you can get from a warm cucumber, there isn’t a finer thing to do than stand in the sun and eat a crispy, juicy cucumber straight out of the fridge.

Now is peak cucumber appreciation season at farmers markets. Last week I brought home five different varieties from three different vendors, and let the comparisons begin. The highlight was Chinese cucumbers that had thin, spiky skins like pickling cukes, a sharp crisp and explosive water content.

Don’t let the title “pickling” fool you when you want to eat a fresh cucumber. My wife prefers pickling cucumbers to slicing cucumbers, at least for raw use. For what it’s worth, I agree.

If pickles are on your agenda, however, you should actually stick to actual pickling cucumbers. I’ve never seen anybody pull off a decent pickle with slicers.

Another great cucumber is the Armenian, which is as delicious as it is enormous. And some of the plain-Jane-looking normal slicing cucumbers these days can surprise you.

As for preparation, there are all kinds of lovely recipes for fresh cucumbers, but if your goal is to compare and contrast, munching them straight out of the fridge is the way to go.

But if that’s too much chewing, I suggest putting your cukes in a Vitamix or similar high-speed blender with some ice cubes and whipping up some cucumber ambrosia.

You’ll need two medium cukes, four to eight cubes of ice, a quarter of a lime, and four mint leaves.

Slice the blossom ends of both cucumbers. Cut the remaining cucumber sections into three or four pieces each, and put them in the blender with the ice cubes and lime juice.

Blend, starting low until it’s a chunky slurry, then turn the blender up to high. If it’s too slushy for your taste, add water. If it’s too bitter, add sweetener, or fruit, and blend again.

Sipping on this concoction is refreshing and satisfying on so many levels, and is a delightful way to pass the afternoon, while loading up on vitamins and fiber. And, depending on the hour, these flavors go very well with gin. I can slip about half a shot into a glass of cucumber smoothie and barely taste a thing.

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