Some may love the crisp crunch and delicate flavor of a fresh cucumber. For others, cucumbers are relatively bland and lackluster or, at worst, bitter. That said, most can agree that cucumbers are a great veggie (or fruit?) to have in the kitchen during summertime and peak cucumber season. The hydrating vegetables don’t require cooking, are light and refreshing, and they make a great addition to a sandwich or salad — so how do you make them taste better?
Thankfully the solution is simple. Just grab some salt and take a little extra time with your prep. (Some kitchen hacks recommend that you rub a cut cucumber to remove some of the liquid, which supposedly contains a cucumber’s bitter compounds; however, whether or not this hack works is up for debate. We like our method better.)
After you’ve sliced your cucumbers, sprinkle them with salt and then let the cucumbers sit for about half an hour. You can either let the cucumbers sit on a paper towel for this timeframe, or you can let them rest in a colander in a (clean) sink or atop a bowl or plate.
The salt draws out the cucumbers’ excess moisture, while adding some extra flavor. Plus, because this method removes the cucumbers’ excess water, they won’t drench a dish’s other ingredients and they’ll be able to more readily absorb a dish’s overarching flavors, like those from seasonings, herbs, or a dressing.
In other words, say goodbye to bland, boring cucumbers. All you need is a little salt to take your cuke game to the next level.
How to flavor your cucumbers
But once you upgrade your cucumbers, how should you use them?
To start, you can’t go wrong with a classic cucumber sandwich, a light, healthful lunch option that’s perfect for a picnic or just a casual meal at home. Cucumber salad pairs the veggie with complimentary flavors that won’t overwhelm a cucumber’s lightness, such as dill and chives.
Another summertime option that’s cool and refreshing? Cold cucumber soup. Again, in this recipe, the cucumber pairs perfectly with dill, but also lemon juice and garlic.
In general, you can expect your cucumbers to pair well with other light flavor profiles, and, texturally, with creamy or soft textures that contrast against a raw cucumber’s snappy crunch.
Ingredients that pair well with cucumbers, no matter what you’re making, include soft cheeses such as chervil or cream cheese; sour cream; herbs such as dill, basil, and mint; spices such as celery seeds or sesame seeds; melons; tomatoes; celery; and carrots. Of course, if you don’t mind multiple flavors competing for your tastebuds’ attention, there are plenty of other classic cucumber pairings to try, such as cucumbers and onion, vinegar, fish, or chiles.
(Pro tip: if you frequently grow cucumbers in your home garden, consider planting sunflowers next to your cucumbers. This gardening hack, and the enzymes released by growing sunflowers, has been proved to reduce bitterness in homegrown cucumbers.)
A Summer Staple, Improved
Cucumber salads are a go-to around here all summer long. But have you ever noticed they sometimes taste better the next day? That’s because storing overnight allows the seasonings to penetrate the cucumber slices. Using our method above, you can achieve a similar next-day flavor in minutes by salting the cucumber during your prep by following the method below. Enjoy!
Simple Cucumber Salad
- 1 mandolin slicer optional
- 2 cucumbers average sized, sliced
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 red onion sliced
- 2 garlic cloves crushed and chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 tbsp sugar optional
- 1 tsp fresh dill finely chopped, or substitute 1/4 tsp dried dill weed
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Cut the cucumber into 1/8-inch thin slices using a mandolin or sharp knife. Place the slices on paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt. Let rest for 15-30 minutes to extract moisture. Pat dry with clean paper towels.
- Add in the sliced red onion and toss to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, dill, and pepper.
- Pour the dressing mixture over the cucumber and onion and toss to fully combine.
- Serve immediately or keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
- The sugar in this recipe is optional. It frequently appears in other popular recipes, but I personally just don’t enjoy the sweetness in combination with the acidity of the vinegar.
- Store leftover salad covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.