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Cucumbers

 

 

cucumber = cuke    These gourd relatives are crisp, cool, and juicy, but get only so-so marks for flavor and nutritional content.  A slicing cucumber = table cucumber is usually served raw in salads, sandwiches, drinks, sushi, and hors d'oeuvres to add crunch, but they can also be cooked like zucchini.  Pickling cucumbers  are usually smaller than slicing cucumbers, and often have thick, warty skins.  They're hard to find in supermarkets, but you can often find them during the summer months in farmers' markets.  
Select firm, unblemished cucumbers that are rounded at the tips and heavy for their size.  Reject those with soft spots or withered ends.  Within each variety, try to pick cucumbers that are relatively small and slender--they'll often have better flavor and fewer seeds. 

Supermarket cucumbers are often waxed to seal in moisture; unwaxed cucumbers can be sealed by wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap.  Store cucumbers unwashed in the refrigerator crisper, where the higher humidity will help keep them crisp.  Don't freeze cucumbers--they get mushy if they're too cold.  Use them within a week or so of purchase.

Many cooks remove the tips, peels and seeds, which are tough and bitter in some varieties.   To seed a cucumber, cut it lengthwise and scrape the seeds out with a spoon or knife.  

Varieties:

Best for slicing:  garden cucumber, English cucumber, Japanese cucumber, Armenian cucumber, lemon cucumber

Best for pickling:  gherkin, cornichon, Kirby cucumber, lemon cucumber

Equivalents:  One pound yields about 2 cups sliced.

Substitutes:  zucchini OR beets  

Complements:  dill OR mint OR vinegar OR yogurt OR salt OR sugar OR fish OR cream OR celery seed OR tarragon

Varieties:

American dill  Substitutes:  gherkin (smaller) OR cornichon (smaller)

Armenian cucumber = snake melon = snake cucumber = uri    This is hard to find, but one of the best-regarded slicing cucumbers.  It's crisp, thin-skinned, and mild-flavored, and it has soft seeds.  Like the English cucumber, it doesn't need to be peeled or seeded.  It's not good for pickling.  Substitutes:  English cucumber

cornichon  This is a small pickling cucumber.  Substitutes:  gherkin

cuke

English cucumber = burpless cucumber = English cucumber = European cucumber = hothouse cucumber = seedless cucumber = gourmet cucumber = greenhouse cucumber   This foot-long slicing cucumber is pricier and less flavorful than other varieties, but it has less conspicuous seeds, a thinner skin, and a plastic wrapper--instead of a wax coating--to improve shelf life.  All of this saves preparation time, since there's no need to peel or seed the cucumber before slicing it.  This is a good variety if you focused on looks--you can cut it into round, green trimmed slices.   Substitutes:  Japanese cucumber OR garden cucumber, peeled and seeded 

gherkin  These are very small pickling cucumbers.  Substitutes:  cornichon OR American dill (larger)

Japanese cucumber  These are just like English cucumbers, only with bumps. Like English cucumbers, they don't have to be peeled or seeded.  Substitutes:  English cucumber

Kirby cucumber   This short, versatile cucumber is used for both slicing and pickling.  It's small, with bumpy yellow or green skin.  Like the English cucumber, it has a thin skin and inconspicuous seeds.   Substitutes:  burpless cucumber (much larger)

 

lemon cucumber  This versatile cucumber is sweet and flavorful, and doesn't have much of the chemical that makes other cucumbers bitter and hard to digest. Though it's often served raw, it's also a good pickling cucumber.  Substitutes:  green cucumber (not as delicately flavored)

garden cucumber = market cucumber = common cucumber = regular cucumber = outdoor cucumber = field-grown cucumbers   You can find these throughout the year at all but the most poorly stocked markets.  The ones you find in supermarkets are usually waxed to hold in moisture and improve shelf-life--these should be peeled or at least scrubbed well before serving.  Unwaxed cucumbers don't need to be peeled, but better cooks often do so since the peels tend to be thick and bitter.  It's also a good idea to remove the seeds from these kinds of cucumbers; just cut them in half lengthwise and scrape them out.   Select cukes that are firm, dark green, and rounded at the tips.  Substitutes:  English cucumber (Less flavorful, but doesn't need to be peeled or seeded.) OR Japanese cucumber OR Armenian cucumber OR lemon cucumber

Mediterranean cucumber

Persian cucumber  Notes:  This is very similar to a Japanese cucumber.

Copyright 1996-2005  Lori Alden