Simply Seasonal: Cucumbers in paradise
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, as 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, making the perfect accompaniment to a spot of tea in mid-afternoon.These original “tea sandwiches” have moved to the American 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. Alas, the cucumber gets lost in the endless variety of these American nibbles.Cucumbers are often part of Middle Eastern cuisine, as they tone down the heat of exotic spices. A classic cucumber raita can accompany a spicy falafel sandwich.Restaurant Avondale’s executive chef Mike Mayer recommends raita as a flavorful, versatile combination.”This cool sauce complements many different dishes,” he said. “It’s great alongside grilled salmon, balancing the richness of the fish. Or try it as a dip for fresh veggies or as a salad dressing.”Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur (larkspurvail.com), at the base of Vail Mountain, has beenserving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa and features a West Coast-inspired, market-driven menu.
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