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Vail seasonal: Use cool cukes to turn down the heat

Sue Barham
Special to the Vail Daily/Sue BarhamVail seasonal: Cucumbers are a far from boring vegetable. Try making a cucumber raita or a falafel sandwich with couscous.
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VAIL, Colorado – You will usually find them in the supporting role. Almost unnoticed in sauces, salads, dressings and sides, the cool cucumber provides a delightful crunch to complement the main ingredients. Pickles, the ultimate sandwich accompaniment, are cukes. The garnishes on a serving platter or buffet table are often carved from cukes.Available worldwide and traced back through history for centuries, the cucumber is classified as a fruit, part of the squash family. Cucumbers are loaded with health benefits. They are high in water content (about 95 percent), helping your digestive system. Their fiber-rich skin and high levels of potassium and manganese help regulate blood pressure. Cucumbers are fat free, sodium free, cholesterol free, low calorie and a good source of vitamin C. Since ancient times cucumber has been believed to enhance the skin and is still found as a popular ingredient in skin care products.There are almost 100 varieties of cucumbers grown around the world. Three of the most common are the English cucumber, the ‘slicer’ cucumber, and the short, squat pickling variety. The slicer is readily available and tends to have tough, bitter skin, which is often peeled and discarded. The seeds can be bitter, too. But slicers are typically inexpensive and many cooks don’t mind the trimming process to get to the cool, crunchy insides.The English cucumber, like its name implies, is more refined. The shape is longer and more narrow. The skin is thinner, less waxy and is not bitter to the taste. The seeds are tiny, allowing this variety to be sold as seedless. Differences from the slicer aside, the flavor of the white part of both cukes is very much the same.The traditional English tea sandwiches may be the one place where cucumbers take center stage. This classic starts with white bread, spread thinly with butter, topped with cucumbers. The crusts of the sandwich are then trimmed off and the sandwich cut into dainty triangles. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a spot of tea in mid afternoon.Maybe it’s refined but Americans find it boring. ‘Tea sandwiches’ have moved to the hors d’oeuvres category and are a popular appetizer. The breads have become varied, there may be additional veggies or herbs, the butter may become cream cheese and smoked salmon or thinly sliced ham may make an appearance. Does the cucumber get lost in the endless variety of these American nibbles? Quite often.Brian Harker, bar manager at Restaurant Avondale, makes cucumber the star in his innovative cocktail – the cuke-a-racha. “It’s a cool margarita with a little surprise heat on the finish,” he said, “very refreshing on a summer day.” Cucumbers are often part of middle eastern cuisine, as they tone down the heat. Jeremy Kittelson, Avondale’s executive chef, makes a classic cucumber raita to accompany a spicy falafel sandwich. “Raita is a flavorful combination and can be used in many different dishes,” he said. “It’s great as a sauce for grilled salmon, balancing the richness of the fish. Or try it as a dip for fresh veggies or as a salad dressing.”

1 cup of cucumber, seeded, small dice2 Tablespoons of red onion, minced1 Tablespoon of cilantro, chopped1 Tablespoon of mint, chopped1 1/2 cups of plain yogurt1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper1/4 teaspoon of ground cuminKosher salt to tasteCombine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Makes 3 cups. Will keep in the refrigerator for one week.

2 1/2 ounces Reposado Tequila3/4 ounce Thai Bird chile-infused simple syrup (see recipe below)2 – 3/4″ inch segments cucumber, peeled1 ounce fresh lime juiceMuddle cucumber with syrup. Add lime juice and tequila. Shake with ice. Strain into ice filled tumbler. Garnish with cucumber wheel.Thai Bird chile infused simple syrup:1 cup dried Thai Bird chiles2 cups simple syrupCombine chiles and syrup in saucepan and simmer for one hour. Strain off chiles. Keep refrigerated; will keep for up to two weeks.

3 large cucumbers, thinly sliced4 large onions, thinly sliced4 Tablespoons coarse salt 2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar 3/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoons celery seeds 1 teaspoons mustard seeds Mix the cucumbers and onions together in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Leave two hours. Rinse & drain. Bring the vinegar, sugar and spices to a boil, and simmer for three minutes. Pack the drained cucumbers & onions loosely in warm jars. Cover with the spiced vinegar & seal immediately.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.###


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