Growing and Cooking with Cucumbers and Peppers

From preparing pickling cucumbers and Japanese cucumbers to poblano peppers for a chiles rellenos recipe, here’s what you need to know to bring these stars of the summer garden to your table.

| August/September 2015

  • Cucumbers and Peppers
    Cucumbers and peppers shine in the summer garden.
    Photo by Barbara Damrosch
  • Chile Peppers
    Chile peppers in their infinite variety range from mild to blistering.
    Photo by Barbara Damrosch

  • Cucumbers and Peppers
  • Chile Peppers

Cucumbers and peppers shine in the summer garden, with different, though equally mouthwatering, roles. Cucumbers ripen in the temperate early summer, whereas peppers take their time and wait for late summer’s warmth, especially in cool climates. Cucumbers are forever linked with the word “cool.” Peppers, in color and many in pungency, are emblems of heat.

During the weeks when their seasons overlap, cucumbers and peppers are often paired in the kitchen because they’re both so refreshing and crisp when raw. Prized for color, flavor and texture, they shimmer when set side by side on the crudité platter, tossed together in a green salad, folded into a summer omelet, mixed in a spicy salsa, or combined in a classic gazpacho.

Growing Cucumbers

Cucumbers suffer somewhat from modernization. As shoppers, we’re used to tough-skinned American slicers, which are bred for shipping, lack good flavor and are more palatable when peeled. Home gardeners have more flavorful options to choose from. Try the long Middle Eastern types, knobby little pickling cucumbers, or even twisted Armenian varieties. I like growing the prolific ‘Socrates’ in the greenhouse, and sowing the Japanese cucumber called ‘Tasty Jade’ in our outdoor home garden.

As with most fruiting crops, cukes need a sunny garden spot. Plant in warm soil after danger of frost is past. Sow seeds directly, or set out transplants that are no more than 3 weeks old. Trellising is a must. The best cucumbers grow on vines and would require an irresponsible amount of space if left to sprawl. Try growing them on a tall lattice fence, or on a homemade trellis built from a wooden or metal-pipe frame. You can also rig up metal or nylon mesh for a trellis, or just let the vines climb up lengths of string. The vines will want to reach upward, holding onto whatever they find, but plastic tomato trellis clips will keep the unruly plants tidy. Give the plants steady moisture. If cucumber beetles show up, remove them with the crevice tool attachment on a cordless shop vacuum — suck them up early in the day while they’re still sluggish.

Cooking with Cucumbers

Cucumbers are cherished for crunchiness, whether eaten in a sandwich with watercress and mayo; put into service as a canapé “cracker”; or folded into protein-based salads made with shrimp, lobster, tuna, chicken or hard-boiled eggs. Nothing stretches these salads better than cukes when unexpected guests sit down at your table. A platter of sliced cucumbers is a great last-minute dish to take to a potluck, mixed with a few sliced onions, green herbs such as dill, and vinaigrette or — better yet — plain yogurt and sour cream. Or, toss a cucumber and some buttermilk into your blender for a quick, cold soup. The best way to store cucumbers for winter eating is to ferment or can them into pickles.

Did you know you can cook cucumbers, as well? Despite their high water content, cucumbers keep their firmness surprisingly well when heated. Try simmering them with onions, and then blending them with chicken broth and cream for soup. Or, sauté them with cumin. I once cooked cukes for a cucumber-hating friend who wolfed down every bite — he thought they were zucchini.


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