How to pick, store and prep fresh cucumbers and a delicious (and easy) recipe
Crisp, cool and crunchy. Cucumbers offer a refreshing flavour blast wherever they are served.
Thankfully, Canadian cucumbers are available almost all year round. And now, with the bounty available from home gardens, farmers’ markets and grocery stores we are putting them everywhere on our menus.
With a few tips and tricks, you will get the most out of this versatile vegetable – or is it a fruit?
Are Cucumbers a Fruit or Vegetable?
Cucumbers are fruits, botanically speaking. That means they have seeds. In fact, cucumbers are part of the gourd family which includes its delightful second or third cousins – melons, squash and pumpkins.
They get put in the vegetable category because that is how they are most often used. Fruit or vegetable, we should be eating more of them, so stock up and start crunching.
Picking Fresh Cucumbers from the garden or the store
Cucumbers, no matter what type, should be green and firm. Stay away from cucumbers with wrinkled skin and make sure there aren’t any signs of bruising or yellowing. Yellowing indicates overripening.
Small to medium sized cucumbers are preferable to large as the larger ones tend to be bitter and bland and the seeds can be hard.
The only exception to the yellow colour is if you are buying lemon cucumbers – an heirloom variety, these cucumbers are small and round with lemon coloured skin.
Types of Cucumbers to Choose From
There are many varieties of cucumbers worldwide but they are divided between three main types.
Grown to be eaten fresh, slicing cucumber varieties have smooth skin that can be tough.
Any cucumber can be pickled, however, there are different types of cucumbers grown specifically for the purpose of pickling. Pickling cucumbers, also called picklers, are grown to be uniform in size. They typically have thicker skin that is bumpy with tiny spines. These spines need to be scrubbed off before processing.
Gherkins or cornichons are a specific type of pickling cucumber with typical bumpy skin but much smaller in size.
Also called burpless, these cucumbers are usually only grown in greenhouses, have thin skin and are virtually seedless. Thankfully, seedless cucumbers are grown across Canada year-round. Originally, this type of fresh cucumber was grown as an option for people who find cucumber skin and seeds difficult to digest.
Typically used as a slicing cucumber, the slightly sweet taste and more digestible skin of a seedless cucumber make this a favourite in kitchens across the country. However, this type can also be used for pickling and is perfect for quick pickling style of recipes. Like a quick Thai Cucumber Carrot Pickle to top a Bahn Mi.
Storing Fresh Cucumbers
Cucumbers should be stored in the fridge. Preferably in a humidity and air flow controlled environment like a produce crisper. Remember, we eat them like a vegetable but they should be stored like a fruit. Your cucumbers should last about a week under these conditions.
Preparing Fresh Cucumbers
Wash them. Always wash them, even if you are removing the skin. If you are getting ready to make a batch of pickles, fill up a sink or large bowl with cold water and dump your cucumbers in. Grab a small brush and scrub, scrub, scrub. Give it a quick rinse and repeat.
Leaving the skin on or skin off is a personal preference. However, it also depends on the type of cucumber. Slicing cucumbers can have a tough skin that is difficult for some people to digest.
The easiest method for removing the skin of a cucumber is to use a peeler. Because of their long, thin shape, simply drag the peeler down the length as the cucumber rests either in your palm or on a cutting board. A sharp quality paring knife also works but you may lose more cucumber flesh.
Removing the seeds is also a personal preference. Even the seedless type of cucumber. By removing the seeds, you will change the overall texture of the final dish that you are making as the seeds and the flesh around them can add extra liquid.
To remove the seeds, cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and hold the cucumber half in your hand. Over a bowl, turn a small spoon over and drag the tip of the bowl down the length of the cucumber. It may take a couple of times to remove them all, and if your cucumbers are large, use a big spoon.
Alternately, cut the cucumber into lengthwise wedges, either quarters or sixths. Use a paring knife to carefully cut under the middle section of the cucumber to remove the seeds and surrounding flesh.
Raw cucumber can be grated, cut into strips, sliced and cubed. A julienne peeler or box grater is the easiest way to grate cucumbers. If you are using grated flesh in a Homemade Tzatziki or Cucumber Raita, squeezing a bit of the liquid out will keep your sauce from getting watery.
Cucumbers can be sliced in rounds or in long strips. For consistently uniform slices, a mandoline can’t be beat. From paper thin slices or strips on top of Smoked Salmon with Dill Feta Flatbread or thick slices strong enough to hold Thai Chili Lime Shrimp.
If you find your cucumbers to be a little bitter, peel, remove the seeds and either slice or chop them. Put them in a colander or fine mesh strainer over a bowl, sprinkle the cucumber with salt and then toss. Let them sit for about 20 minutes, give them a rinse and squeeze to remove excess liquid.
What you can do with too many cucumbers?
You’ve had multiple bowls of Gazpacho. The family has had enough Creamy Dill and Cucumber Salad. But have you tried cooking cucumbers? Yes, it sounds a little crazy but you can (and should) try it. They can be sauteed, steamed, stir-fried or even roasted.
How about Cucumber Infused Spirits using either vodka or gin. Slice, dice or chop cucumber and put in a glass jar with either vodka or gin. Allow them to sit for at least a couple of days and up to a week out of direct sunlight. Drain and discard the cucumber and pour your homemade Cucumber Infused Gin into clean bottles. Perfect for gift giving or adding to your cocktail repertoire.
Freezing Fresh Cucumbers
Yes, you can freeze cucumbers (and you should). They are a great addition to smoothies; adding the fresh without the sweet. However, cucumbers turn to mush once thawed after being frozen so use them while they are still frozen.
Pureeing Fresh Cucumbers
Using a blender or food processor, puree the cucumbers. Peeling is completely up to you but will depend on what type of cucumbers you have on hand. Also, you might want to remove the seeds. Freeze in small containers or fill up an ice cube tray. Use your pureed cucumbers to stir into a cocktail like a Cucumber Martini. Add a couple of cubes to a pitcher of water with a few mint leaves for a quick flavoured treat. Or, how about adding a bit to your homemade vinaigrette to replace some of the oil.
Pickling and Preserving Fresh Cucumbers
Cucumbers love being pickled and preserved. Quick, salt-brined, vinegar-brined or fermented, whichever type of pickles you prefer (or have time for) not one will go to waste.
Layered Greek Dip
Cucumbers are the key ingredient in this simple, fresh and flavourful dip. A quick lunch or a delightful snack that come together in minutes.
Makes 2 servings
¼ cup hummus
¼ cup tzatziki
¼ cup diced fresh tomatoes
¼ cup diced sweet peppers
2 tbsp diced red onion
½ cup diced cucumber (remove the seeds)
4 kalamata olives, sliced
1 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
For Dipping: cucumber slices, pretzels or pita chips
Kitchen Equipment & Tools
1. In a shallow bowl add the hummus an spread evenly with the spatula. Add tzatziki over top of the hummus and spread evenly.
2. Layer the following over the tzatziki: tomatoes, peppers, red onion, cucumber, olives and feta cheese.
3. Serve with cucumber slices, pretzels or pita chips. Enjoy!
Chef TipsUse a shallow bowl for this dip, allowing you to scoop with abandon
Double or triple the recipe if you are feeding a crowd
Change up the vegetables
Add a few shakes of oregano on top