Char Your Cucumbers

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
July 11, 2014

Photo credit: © StockFood / Pilossof, Judd

At chef Ignacio Mattos’s New York restaurant Estela Tuesday night, we ordered a kind of salad of cucumber, leeks, and ricotta. It arrived, topped with anise leaves and wading in verdant liquid (sorrel and garlic scape juice, we later discovered). But it also came with blackened skin.

Cucumbers? Charred on the grill?  

"We try things all the time and see how they work," Mattos told us. "Sometimes things work well." A Persian cucumber, in this case, was one of those things. 

"I get tired of chewing the same thing," said Mattos. "Cucumbers have too much crunch. They’re too watery. I mean, really, who cares about cucumbers? They taste like nothing."

Blistered over high heat, though, the vegetable’s natural sugars concentrate, and “the flavor builds and shines. It becomes elegant and charming,” and definitely out of the ordinary.

Mattos chars the cucumbers dry (no olive oil or seasoning) on a grate over high heat, lets them cool off, cuts them, and marinates them in olive oil and white wine vinegar for an hour or so. He suggests serving them in a grain salad tossed with olive oil and orange or grapefruit juice, or as a garnish for grilled lamb or Merguez sausage. It’s “perfect for summer,” he says.

"You have a fire, you have a vegetable; that’s all you need."