My husband argues that pickles aren’t a vegetable. They’re a misunderstood meat, he says. And a gift from God sent for the enjoyment of all humanity.
Cucumbers are a different story. He maintains they aren’t really food at all and still somewhat doubts that cucumbers can grow up to be pickles. Nevermind that he actually sees that transformation every summer when I put up bread and butter pickles.
So you can imagine my astonishment when he not only ate some of the cucumber-tomato salad I made from the season’s first cucumbers and tomatoes from the farmers market, but ALL of the cucumber and tomato salad.
It was the fault, he said, of the dressing. He still doesn’t admit to liking cucumbers.
Technically, he’s right about pickles or cucumbers not being a vegetable. According to Barron’s “The New Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, cucumbers are a fruit of the gourd family believed to have originated in India or Thailand.
The bitter taste sometimes associated with cucumbers comes from the seeds. As the fruit matures, the seeds become larger and more bitter. You can easily seed a cucumber by cutting lengthwise down the middle and scooping the seeds out with a spoon.
To choose a good cucumber, “The New Food Lover’s Companion” says, pick a firm fruit with smooth, brightly colored skin, avoiding any with soft or shriveled spots. Unless you’re picking fresh or from a local farmer, the skin is probably waxed and should be peeled away. This is easily done with a potato peeler.
Cucumber and tomato salads are like summer in a bowl. I make mine with one or two cucumbers, seeded and peeled, and one or two garden-fresh tomatoes. A dash of salt, a liberal grinding of black pepper, and you’re ready to eat. You can also dress it up with chunks of sweet onion or a good mozzarella cheese.
The apparently magical viniagrette I used to top my salad was made with Stonewall Kitchens’ Blue Cheese Herbed Mustard picked up on a recent trip. Several local stores carry the Stonewall Kitchens line of products, or you can buy directly from their website at http://www.stonewallkitchen.com. The recipe is basic, however, and can use any good quality spiced mustard, like Dijon, and any good balsamic. You can add your favorite herbs, garlic or finely grated hard cheeses to tailor it to your palate.
I store mine in a glass jar with a metal spout in the fridge. Remember to shake well before pouring.