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Home with the Lost Italian: Cucumber salads are a refreshing way to enjoy superfood

When it comes to food, we never cease to be amazed by nature's ability to provide what we need, just when we need it. Our gardens and farmers markets are evidence of that...

Rustic Italian cucumber salad includes cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.Dave Wallis / The Forum
Rustic Italian cucumber salad includes cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. Dave Wallis / The Forum
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When it comes to food, we never cease to be amazed by nature's ability to provide what we need, just when we need it. Our gardens and farmers markets are evidence of that, as they are starting to burst with foods that will cool us down and thrive during these hot days of summer.

One of our favorite cooling foods is the incredibly versatile cucumber, a superfood veggie that has everything going for it.

Cucumbers are a member of the same plant family as melons and squashes, and are classified as a gourd. They are believed to have originated in ancient India and the Middle East over 4,000 years ago, and were spread across Europe, the New World and other parts of the globe by explorers and traders.

Cucumbers are mild in flavor, and while there are dozens of different types of cucumbers that vary in size, taste and texture, they come in two basic varieties: slicing or pickling. Both types are edible, but the slicing cucumbers are often larger and have thicker skins than the pickling kind. When we go to our local grocery store, we usually find just two types of cukes available: green or English (also known as "seedless").

Green cucumbers are typically less expensive than the English, and their thick skin has a wax coating, which has been added to preserve the vegetable and must be removed before eating. Their flesh is dense and packed with more seeds than their English counterpart, which can lead to a slightly bitter taste if not removed.

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English cucumbers come wrapped in plastic, are longer and more slender than the basic green variety, and are favored for their edible, thin skins and nearly seedless flesh. We prefer the English variety with its sweeter flavor and delicate texture, as well as the convenience of its unwaxed skin. Fortunately, the cukes you'll find now in our local farmers markets are also unwaxed, and equally pleasing in flavor and texture.

High in vitamin C and other important vitamins, cucumbers are a terrific source of nutrition, especially flavonoids, a group of plant nutrients known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. There are many ways to receive these healthy benefits that go beyond simply eating them, like drinking cucumber-infused water or relieving tired, puffy eyes by placing a slice of cold cucumber over each of them for five minutes.

We've tried both of these methods and find them extremely pleasant, but our favorite way to get the most from a cucumber is, of course, to eat it. We enjoy eating sliced cucumbers plain or with a little sprinkling of salt, and will often add them to a tossed salad. During the summer, we eat cucumbers several times a week, so we are always looking for new ways to enjoy them.

The two recipes we're sharing today are similar to one another in that they both include cucumber and onion, but one calls for apple cider vinegar and fresh dill, while the other uses red or white wine vinegar and fresh tomato. The difference isn't great, but these simple adjustments are just enough to keep us interested in the fresh and glorious cucumber.

Rustic Cucumber Tomato Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 large English cucumber, sliced into half-moons and skin on

2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped or large-diced

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½ sweet onion, cut into ¼- to ½-inch slices

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

In a large bowl, toss all ingredients together and serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 hours. If using a cucumber with a waxed skin, remove before slicing.

Classic Cucumber Onion Salad

Serves 4

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Ingredients:

1 large English cucumber, cut into thin rounds, skin on

½ sweet onion, quartered and very thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh dill, stems removed

1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

In a large bowl, toss all ingredients together and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving. If using a cucumber with a waxed skin, remove before slicing.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni.

Rustic Italian cucumber salad includes cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.Dave Wallis / The Forum
Cucumber salad with dill and sweet onions along with cucumber slices mixed with ice cubes in water. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Related Topics: RECIPESFOOD
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