One dish that has almost dropped from sight is marinated cucumber salad.

While June 13th is National Cucumber Day, pale-green cucumbers have a place on St. Patrick’s Day: as a side with a sandwich or with a main of seafood, poultry and meat—even corned beef and cabbage or a Guinness beef stew or lamb stew.

So March 17th provides a good reason to whip up an easy cucumber salad.

Cucumbers originated in India, but migrated to Europe as early as Ancient Rome. They were a favorite food of Emperor Tiberius. See the history of cucumbers below.

Published records of cucumber salad appear in 17th century Europe. These cucumber salads were simply sliced and marinated in vinegar or lemon juice, with or without oil. Sliced onion could be added, plus fresh herbs—dill became a favorite pairing, or dill seeds.

Cucumber salad has been a favorite of at least four generations of my family. (We don’t know about the family beyond that, but given that much of the family is from Russia, the odds are that it may be scores of generations.)

Although it’s a great warm-weather dish, we eat cucumber salad year-round: as a side with dinner, as a bed for grilled fish, a condiment on fish sandwiches, on toast and as a filling for toasted pita, as a side with bagels and lox.

Russian style cucumber salad includes sour cream mixed with lots of chopped dill, and sliced onions. And a seasoning of salt and pepper, of course.

Our second favorite recipe is for Greek-style cucumber salad:

  • Cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Tomatoes, sliced large tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes, marinated in wine vinegar
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Extra virgin olive oil, drizzled
  • Garnish: diced feta, kalamata olives, snipped dill
  • Special garnish: stuffed grape leaves
  •  
    We like it so much that we keep containers of it in the fridge. If you store it, hold the feta (and grape leaves) aside until you’re ready to serve the salad.

    Cucumbers pair with almost any regional or global cuisine. So check out the recipe ideas below, and create your own signature recipe.

    Did we mention: Cucumber salad is very low in calories?

    And a piece of food trivia: Cucumbers belong to the same botanical family as melons.
     
     
    WAYS TO CUSTOMIZE YOUR CUCUMBER SALAD

    You can create scores of variations to a standard cucumber salad.

  • Oil: flavored oil, including basil, chile, lemon, lime, etc.
  • Vinegar: apple cider, flavored (garlic, ginger, etc.), white balsamic
  • Herbs and spices: basil, chives, cilantro, coriander, dill weed, dill seed, mint
  • Cut shape: sliced, diced (large or small dice), julienne (matchstick) or batonnet, shaved, spiralized. Also consider fun shapes like triangles (photo #2).
  • Type of cucumber: mini or English, for example. The skin of English cucumbers is easy to eat. Check out the different types of cucumbers.
  • Dairy: Feta, goat cheese, sour cream or yogurt garnishes—a dollop on top. Sour cream and yogurt can also be the base of the dressing.
  • Fruit: blackberries (photo #2), blueberries, grapefruit, honeydew (photo #1) mandarin, pineapple, watermelon.
  • Other vegetables: asparagus, bell pepper, broccoli, carrot, celery, celery root, corn, edamame, fennel, green beans, jalapeño, marinated mushrooms, onion, peas, potato, radish, scallions, summer squash, tomato)
  • Seasonings: salt, flavored salt, pepper, pinch of sugar.
  • Regional/global variations: Japanese (edamame, snow peas, rice vinegar or yuzu plus soy or sesame oil and wasabi in the dressing), Mexican (avocado, coriander, corn, jalapeño, pepitas, tomatillo, tomato), etc.
  • Seafood: Turn cucumber salad into a main dish with a topping of grilled or poached fish, scallops, shrimp; or with sashimi.
  •  
    Also consider these popular cucumber salads:

  • Israeli salad, a chopped (diced) salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and parsley (photo #5). Here’s the recipe. You can serve it as a side with anything. We especially like it under or on top of a fillet of grilled fish.
  • Asian cucumber salad, with sweet-and-sour flavors (photo #5). Here’s the recipe.
  • Raita and tzatziki: These Indian and Greek cucumber salads envelop diced cucumbers in lots of yogurt dressing. Here are the recipes.
  •  
    Check Out These 9 More Ways To Serve Cucumbers
     
     
    DO YOU HAVE TO PEEL THE CUCUMBER?

    Cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fiber. The flesh is low in calories and high in vitamin K, anti-oxidants and potassium.

    Some people may have a hesitance to eat the peel, but try it. The thinner you slice the cucumbers, the easier it is to chew the peel.

    In fact, one way to solve the problem is to buy the long English cucumber instead of the fat, waxed supermarket variety. Many supermarkets carry them.

    Also called the burpless cucumber, European cucumber, hothouse cucumber and seedless cucumber, these cukes are thin skinned and almost seedless. They are easily 12″ to 14″ long, but some grow up to two feet in length (photo #6).

    English cucumbers were actually bred to eliminate some of the more undesirable characteristics: a tough outer skin, large seeds, in some varieties, a bitter taste, and yes, burping.
     

    CUCUMBER HISTORY

    The cucumber originated in India and was cultivated more than 4000 years ago. Easy to cultivate, it spread to other parts of the Pacific.

    By the first century B.C.E., it was traded to ancient Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and to modern-day Bulgaria and Serbia.

     

    [1] Cucumber and honeydew salad with lemon and a garnish of mint and birds-eye chile. Here’s the recipe (photo © Good Eggs).


    [2] Cucumber salad with blackberries, fresh herbs and yogurt dressing. For eye appeal (and fun), the cucumbers are cut in triangles (photo © Good Eggs).


    [3] Hot and spicy: cucumber radish salad with habanero, a sour cream-yogurt dressing and a cilantro garnish (photo © Melissa’s).


    [4] Israeli salad: cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and scallions. Here’s the recipe (photo © PushLama | iStock Photo).

    Asian Cucumber Salad
    [5] Sweet-and-sour Asian cucumber salad. Here’s the recipe (photo © Sunset Grown).


    [6] English cucumbers are 12″ to 14″ long, as you can see compared to a conventional American supermarket cucumber (photo © Mastronardi Produce | Sunset Grown).

     
    The march of the cucumber was global. It is the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable in the world [source].

    The Roman Emperor Tiberius (14 B.C.E. to 16 C.E.) ate cucumbers every day of the year. Special gardens were tended just for his vegetables. In the winter, the cucumbers were grown on bed frames or wheeled carts that were moved around to follow the sun, and brought indoors at night for warmth.

    (The first practical greenhouse was invented by the French botanist Charles Lucien Bonaparte during the 1800s, to grow medicinal tropical plants.)

    Because it is such a prolific grower (one vine grows many cukes), the vegetable was inexpensive and accessible to both the wealthy and peasants. In addition to eating, cucumbers were widely used as medicinal remedies.

    After the fall of Rome, cucumbers receded for a long period, resurfacing in France at the court of Charlemagne in the late 8th and 9th centuries.

  • They were brought to England in the 14th century but were not well received. Another attempt, in the mid-17th century finally took hold (and led to those cucumber sandwiches and salads).
  • Christopher Columbus brought cucumbers to Haiti in 1494. They were grown by there by Spanish settlers and made their way across New World.
  • In the 16th century, European trappers in North America introduced cucumbers to Native Americans in the rGreat Plains and the Rocky Mountains.
  • During the 18th century, several medicinal journals reported (erroneously) that raw cucumbers represented serious health risks. Cucumber use plummeted, to be revived only in 19th century.
  •  
    In 2010, worldwide cucumber production was 57.5 million tons, with majority of the world’s production and export coming from China (40.7 million tons).

      


    THE NIBBLE Blog – Adventures In The World Of Fine Food

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