These days Joe is bringing in more cucumbers than I know what to do with them. I’m really not complaining, the season is short and I am using them in as many salads and cold soups as I can find recipes. Native to India, cucumbers require 70°F plus soil and air temperatures to grow but have a relatively short time from sowing to harvest. He has had great success growing them in the greenhouse that is situated in the garden. That environment provides just slightly warmer temperatures.
Since cucumbers are 96% water they are happiest when watered on a consistent basis. A well watered cucumber vine will produce the sweetest fruit. We stick with two varieties that produce well, Persian and Bush Champion. Persian cucumbers are small, about 6 inches long and 3/4 inch diameter with smooth edible skin and undeveloped seeds. They are the perfect size for pickling, if that is your inclination. Bush Champions are a bush variety that take one third of the space and are also suitable for containers.
One of my all time favorite cucumber salads to make is a Thai cucumber salad. Light and crunchy, it is quick and easy to make, combining sweet, spicy and tangy flavors. The dressing draws most of it’s ingredients from the Asian pantry. Seasoned rice vinegar is either made from sake or by adding salt and sugar to regular white rice vinegar and is an easy boost to the sweet, salty and tangy elements of a dish. Plain rice wine vinegar is a bit more versatile and could be substituted. Just remember to adjust the seasonings accordingly. Whether you call it nam pla, nuoc nam or patis, fish sauce is made from the liquid drained from fermented anchovies and is a flavor enhancer like salt or soy sauce. A little goes a long way here. I am partial to the Three Crabs brand that is readily available in Asian markets. Sesame oil was one of the first exotic ingredients to grace our kitchen. Be sure to look for toasted sesame oil. It is dark in color and has a very intense aroma and flavor. Use Thai basil in this salad if you can find it. The beautifully named Siam Queen is one of the varieties we grow. The plant is more compact in apppearance than the standard Italian basil with smaller bright green leaves. There are clusters of purple flowers at the top of the plant. It has an intense licorice aroma and flavor.
To make the salad, add the rice vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice and fish sauce to a large bowl. Peel about 1½ lbs cucumbers, I leave a little skin on for color contrast. Slice in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and slice diagonally into crescents. Peeling the cucumber allows the flavors of the dressing to be absorbed right into the flesh. Add cucumbers, basil and peanuts to the bowl, toss and serve. So simple to make, refreshing Thai cucumber salad is as much a natural next to a grilled satay as it is with your standard picnic fare.
Cucumber, Basil and Peanut Salad
Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine
- 3T seasoned rice vinegar
- 1t Asian sesame oil
- 1t fresh lime juice
- 1t fish sauce
- 1½lb cucumbers
- ¼c torn basil leaves (Thai is preferred)
- ¼c coarsely chopped salted peanuts
- In a large bowl, mix the first four ingredients.
- Peel cucumbers (I like to leave small strips of skin for contrast), slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and slice diagonally into ¼ inch crescents.
- Add the cucumbers, torn basil and peanuts to the bowl with the vinaigrette, toss and serve.