What is Cucumber?
Perhaps the more interesting question should be whether a cucumber is a vegetable or a fruit?
Cucumbers are a member of the guard family, Cucurbitaceae, which is a creeping vine plant that bears cucumiform fruits. Yes, cucumbers are in fact fruits, although consumed as a vegetable. It has the same botanical family as melons and squashes.
Cucumbers originated from Southeast Asia, but you can, of course, find them all around the world now. They are typically long and cylindrical in shape with tapered ends.
There are many varieties of cucumbers available to us but they do however fall into 2 main categories.
Cucumbers which are used for slicing and the other is for pickling. Slicing cucumbers are best eaten raw and fresh and is an integral salad ingredient while pickling cucumbers, which are small, are used to make pickles or gherkins.
Some of the more popular cucumber varieties for slicing include Ashley, Continental, Diva, Lebanese and Tanja. While the Bush Pickle, Carolina, Parisian and Supremo varieties are great for pickling.
What Does Cucumber Taste Like?
Flavour: Some cucumbers can be very bitter, but it all depends on the variety and also the weather conditions in which it was grown. The ends, skin and just the layer under the skin contains the most bitter compounds. Therefore, should you be faced with this unpleasant taste, cut off the stems and peel off both the skin and the layer underneath. Sometimes however it permeates right through and is inedible.
The flesh of the cucumber is very mild, and some would even consider it bland. Due to its extremely high-water content of 95%, you may think a cucumber has a watery flavour. The seeds are relatively tasteless and are usually consumed as well.
Texture: The green skin of the cucumber is thin and holds its shape well. Sometimes the skin has small lumps, long vertical strips or are just plain smooth.
The flesh of the cucumber is crunchy and crisp and softens as ripens. The seeds in the middle are soft and will turn mushy if the cucumber becomes too ripe.
Cucumbers make for great crudites as a vessel to scoop up dips and sauces. They do, however, need to be very fresh as otherwise, it will snap. You can eat it with or without the skin, and usually, it comes down to how bitter the skin is and personal choice.
If you put cucumber through a cooking process, it is best to remove the seeds as that will disintegrate and peel the skin. It holds up surprisingly well, and its texture is a little like squash.
What Goes Well with Cucumber?
Fruit and Vegetables
Avocado, beetroot, cabbage, capsicum, carrot, celery, coconut, eggplant, endive, fava bean, fennel, garlic, ginger, grapefruit, grapes, honeydew, jackfruit, jicama, lemon, lemongrass, lettuce, lime, mango, mushroom, onion, orange, papaya, peas, pineapple, pomegranate, radish, rambutan, rocket, shallot, spinach, spring onion, strawberry, tomato, turmeric, watercress, watermelon,
Herbs, Nuts and Spices
Almonds, basil, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, macadamia, mint, oregano, paprika, parsley, pine nuts, pistachio, sage, tarragon, thyme.
Protein and Other
Beef, capers, chicken, crab, cream cheese, duck, feta, freekeh, goat cheese, olives, pork, quinoa, salami, salmon, sesame, turkey, za’atar.
How to Use Cucumber in Salads?
Slicing cucumber is of course almost always eaten raw in salads. They are great as an ingredient because it’s a great filler, delicious raw, does not compete for flavour and therefore does well to complement other ingredients. They are also extremely easy to find and affordable.
Due to its high-water content, if cucumber plays a big part in your salad, you need to ensure 2 possible scenarios. You are confident that the salads will be eaten quickly or you remove as much of the water as possible as otherwise, your salad will turn into a sloppy mess. I learnt this the hard way!
To remove water from the cucumber, remove the seeds and toss some salt through the cucumber. I usually place it in a colander that rests above a mixing bowl. This way, the water drips into the bowl as the salt draws out all the moisture.
After that, I give it a quick rinse to remove the salt. I place it in paper towels or just between my palms and give it a very gentle squeeze. It is incredible how much water comes out!
How you cut a cucumber makes all the difference to the presentation of your salad. In fact, you can cut them up in different ways if you’d like a bit of fun. You can cut them in wheels, cut them in long thin strips, slice them diagonally, shred them or in long thin ribbons.
If you do cut them into ribbons with a wide mouth peeler, you need to keep the skin on for it to keep its shape. Otherwise, it will just go limp.
Salad Recipes with Cucumber
Bold, spicy Asian flavours that will definitely get your taste buds moving. Delicious texture with tofu skin, cucumber and cauliflower mixed with a chilli black vinegar dressing that is spicy, sweet and sharp all at the same time.
Dive into a traditional style salad that heralds from the intertwining of Chinese and British Malay cultures of centuries past. This Zucchini and Cucumber Salad celebrates the fusion between the 2 cuisines, replicated nowhere else in the world.
This Broad Bean Salad with creamy avocado dressing is the ultimate green salad. Rich in nutrients and packed with healthy vegetables, you can have it as a bowl for lunch or as a side salad.
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