Today’s Meatless Monday on the blog, and we’re cooking with greens. Below, Rebecca Duranleau, Executive Director at O.U.R House of Central Vermont and a volunteer who is testing and tasting recipes from our Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook, takes us into her kitchen and shares her stories and tips for cooking with cucumbers!
“The following recipe is easy–cooking the beets took the most time. I prepped everything, put beets in a pot and took a shower! So this is a good recipe for multi-tasking. The most costly item was the feta, as long as you have the oil and vinegar. If you have oil and vinegar, the recipe costs about $7-
$10 max. Without those them, $20ish depending on the grade of oil and vinegar you buy. Keeps for up to a week, with plenty of leftovers too. I would recommend putting in cheese just prior to serving though and not letting it sit.”
Cucumber-Beet Salad – serves 5
(adapted from Russ Parsons: How to Pick a Peach)
3-4 beets, stems trimmed off
3 medium cucumbers
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 small bunch chives, minced
1 teaspoon garlic
4-5 ounces soft cheese, such as feta or chèvre
Simmer beets in a large saucepan of water until they can be pierced easily with a knife, about 45 minutes. Drain and rinse them under cold running water, rubbing off the skins with your fingers. Peel cucumbers if desired, then chop into small chunks. Chop beets as well, and combine with cucumbers in large bowl. Mix together, oil, vinegar, chives, garlic and salt. Drizzle over vegetables and toss. Crumble the cheese and sprinkle atop the cucumbers and beets.
The modern cucumber has come a long way from its ancient, wild ancestor, which grew in Mesopotamia and India. Whereas the cucumbers of old were small and very bitter, the type of cucumber we’re most familiar with today is the large, almost flavorless cylinder found in the produce aisle. Cucumbers have now been bred for sweetness, uniformity, and storability. Varieties do grow in many shapes and sizes, however, from small, yellowish pickling cucumbers to long, dark green European ones. Cucumbers have been appreciated since Roman times, when they were used both as a food and a remedy for various ailments.
Cucumbers are very susceptible to damage from cold, so they should be started indoors and transplanted when the soils have warmed. Cover young cucumbers with row cover to protect from decimation by striped cucumber beetles. Covers can be removed when the plants start to flower; at that point they will need to be uncovered so they can be pollinated and set fruit (for most varieties, anyway), but they will also be hardy enough at that size to survive beetle attacks. Cucumbers can be trellised to save space and keep the fruits clean. Apply fertilizer for increased yields and pick regularly. If overgrown, old fruits persist on the vine, production will slow. Cucumbers can be picked while still small, but will deteriorate in quality if overgrown, so harvest before fruits show any sign of yellowing. Plants will produce for many weeks on end, slowing down toward the end of the summer.
Cucumbers are best eaten as soon as possible after harvesting. They can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer for several days. For longer storage, cucumbers are most often pickled. Pickles can be canned or made into “refrigerator pickles,” a less sturdy (but equally tasty) version that can be stored in the fridge for several weeks.
Cucumbers purchased from a supermarket are often coated with wax to prolong shelf-life and decrease moisture loss. Peeling waxed cucumbers is preferable, but fresh, unwaxed cucumbers do not need to be peeled. The skin is full of nutrients and fiber. Try cucumbers raw, sprinkled with salt or vinegar, or make into pickles.
Cucumbers, which consist primarily of water, contain few calories but do have some nutrients. The skin also contains silica, a compound that helps our bodies form collagen, a protein that supports our connective tissues. Silica contributes to healthy skin, hair, and nails. Because cucumbers are so water-dense, they can help you stay hydrated too!