One Ingredient: Cucumbers

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA / STYLED BY CATRINE KELTY

Even the most diehard locavores among us eat cucumbers year-round. Thanks to industrialized greenhouse operations in Quebec we can find relatively local, delicious fresh cukes—with few seeds and thin skins—even in February. They’re full of B vitamins, fiber and water so they’re good for preventing disease, reducing inflammation and everybody loves them—kids especially. And their versatility makes them an easy addition to salads, salsas, even sliced and piled onto sandwiches for extra crunch and sweetness.

As tasty as these hothouse cukes are, it’s the heirloom varieties grown by most small-plot farmers that make local cucumbers worth seeking out in the summer months. Visit a nearby farm stand or farmers market in mid-July and you’ll find a multitude of varieties, like pale green, twisty Armenians; round, tennis-ball-yellow lemon cukes; long striped Chinese varieties; green and white pickling cukes; and the most interesting of them all, the Mexican sour gherkin that looks like a tiny watermelon (more closely related to a melon than a cucumber, but they fall into the latter category nonetheless).

Cucumbers are also relatively easy to grow in a small garden plot as long as you take the time to stake them up and train them to climb a trellis or a fence; some of the creeping varieties will take over whatever space they’re given, spreading what seems like yards overnight! And be sure to check under the leaves for hidden fruit—cucumbers can go from a perfect six-inch beauty one day to a fat, whopping foot-long in no time at all.

In the height of the summer there are infinite ways to use up your cucumber crop or market haul. The simplest cucumber salad has just three ingredients: cukes, vinegar and salt—add herbs like dill or parsley and serve. Or make a Japanese-style rice salad by tossing hot sushi rice with seasoned rice vinegar, diced cukes, sliced carrots, a few torn sheets of toasted nori and sesame seeds for an interesting addition to the potluck table.

But by far the best way to enjoy your cucumbers is by making easy refrigerator pickles: Just layer sliced cukes, some dill and onion into a sterilized glass jar, pour a hot mixture of vinegar, sugar, water and salt over the top and allow to cool before storing in the fridge. You’ll have fresh, crisp pickles to serve with smoked fish, on ham sandwiches or to eat straight from the jar.

Here are three more recipes to celebrate the arrival of summer’s cucumber harvest: an easy dilled relish for grilled fish, a chilled soup doubling as a morning smoothie and a pile of Vietnamese-inspired veggie rolls.

Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, soccer mom, Italophile and managing editor at Edible Boston. She can be reached at sarah@edibleboston.com.