Sure, they are great in salads and sandwiches, but wait until you try cooking with cucumbers.
When you think about a cool, crunchy, and refreshing fruit, few come to mind sooner than a cucumber (even if you've always categorized it as a vegetable). They are famous for their freshness and omnipresence in salads, but did you know you can cook cucumbers? Dawn Perry, author of the cookbook Cucumbers, was surprised by "just how versatile cucumbers are, and how forgiving!" when developing recipes for her book on the favorite green fruit. She shares tips and techniques for cooking cucumbers to entice you to try them in a new breadth of ways.
Meet Our Expert
Dawn Perry a writer and cookbook author. She has served as the food director for Real Simple, and has worked in the test kitchens of Everyday Food, Bon Appétit. Her recipes and writing have also been featured on Epicurious, Tasting Table, Food & Wine, and The New York Times.
Why Don't We Cook Cucumbers More?
It might surprise you that cucumbers are enjoyable when cooked, and if so, rest assured you are not alone. Perry theorizes that most people don't think to cook them simply because they're just so good raw. "They can absorb big flavors even in their raw state (see pickles) versus, say, carrots—another great thing to eat raw but that takes a lot more coaxing or processing to take on/in flavor," she says.
Cooked cucumbers lose some crunch, but can still retain it if you cook them quickly at a high heat. They absorb sauces and fats well, making them unctuous and luscious when cooked. However, be ready to give them a helping hand—they might need a bit more attention than other vegetables that you'd cook, but the end result is definitely worth it.
"Cucumbers are really mild to start with and generally low in sugar, so they don't caramelize the way other veg might when cooked," says Perry. "Prepare to add flavor back to the equation," she advises, suggesting post-marinades of lemon juice, garlic, chili flakes, and olive oil. She recommends assertive flavors such as soy sauce and rice vinegar, and fresh herbs and citrus, which "can really wake up the freshness."
Choosing Cucumbers for Cooking
It's important to choose the right cucumber before exposing it to heat. Perry suggests anything "small, firm, and preferably seedless." There are a few common varieties of cucumbers to consider:
About 6 inches in length and usually sold in a pack of multiple, Persian or mini cucumbers are crisp and great for cooking halved or even whole. "Smaller, firmer varieties will hold their shape and are less likely to get mushy than the waxy options at grocery stores," says Perry
Also called hothouse cucumbers, this variety is usually wrapped in plastic, has thin skin, and is nearly seedless, which makes them great for sautéing.
The most common (and least expensive cucumber) found in nearly all grocery stores, garden cucumbers are great for snacking and pickling, but not so good for cooking. Perry warns against their seedy insides. "Those seeded cross sections are so pretty," she says. "But seeds also mean weaker structure inside, so they're more likely to get floppy when they meet heat."
Related: The Right Way to Store Cucumbers
The Best Methods for Cooking Cucumbers
Cucumbers take well to sautéing, grilling, and cooking in the oven.
Thinly sliced and cooked in a hot skillet or wok, cucumbers still maintain some crunch and freshness even when cooked, like in our Sautéed Cucumbers With Green Herbs recipe. Or give sliced cucumbers a quick stir fry with ground beef or sliced steak, it’s a perfect pairing.
High heat is a friend of the cucumber, cooking over high prevents it becoming too watery or mushy. "Too long over heat and you run the risk of drawing out more liquid than you might want," says Perry. Be sure to rub your cucumbers with some oil before grilling them, and chop them roughly to toss into a summer salad after grilling.
Perry turned to Julia Child for inspiration for her recipe for butter-baked cucumbers. She cuts the cucumbers lengthwise, which allows the skins of the cucumbers to keep the meat intact without becoming mushy or falling apart. In a baking dish with sliced shallots and, of course, plenty of butter, baking cucumbers is a surprising way to bring out a new side of this beloved fruit. For another cucumbers-in-the-oven recipe try our Roasted Cucumbers With Cream and Horseradish.
"If you're not crazy about a cooked cuke dish when it's done, often a squeeze of citrus (lemon or lime) or a splash of vinegar can revive things," says Perry.