The cucumber’s greatest strength is also its Achilles’ heel. The cucumber, as you may have noticed, is watery. Really watery. On the plus side, this makes it refreshing and cooling, the perfect cocktail garnish or crudité for a late-summer happy hour on the patio. The downside is that chopped or sliced cucumbers are the culinary equivalent of perilously taut water balloons, threatening to make everything in their vicinity soggy and miserable.
Don’t let their delicate flavor and translucent flesh fool you: Cucumbers require a firm hand if you’re planning to combine them with any other ingredients. First, unless you can find seedless cucumbers, you must eviscerate them. Cucumber seeds, slimy, springy, and evasive, will ruin the texture of any salad, soup, or dip:
Then, you must salt them to draw out as much liquid as possible. If you skip this step, a puddle of near-flavorless liquid will form quickly at the bottom of your salad bowl, your dip or soup will separate like curdled mayonnaise. Not a pleasant dining experience. Happily, salting cucumbers requires only 20 minutes or so and virtually no effort: You just put them in a colander or strainer, toss them with a big pinch of salt or two (the exact quantity doesn’t matter, since most of the salt will flow away with the liquid), and let osmosis do its thing.
Once properly chastened in this way and then patted dry, cucumbers will behave themselves for hours. The best thing to do with them at this point is to combine them with something creamy and tart to liven up their tranquil blandness. Tzatziki, the Greek condiment combining cucumbers and yogurt with lemon juice, garlic, and dill, is the ideal invigorating summer cucumber dish. (It also serves quite nicely as a dip, salad, or side dish, or as part of a mezze-inspired meal with the dishes listed at the bottom of this page.)
Apart from salting your cucumbers, you must pay attention to a couple of details to make your tzatziki as thick and flavorful as possible: Use whole-milk Greek yogurt, and if any thin liquid has separated from the yogurt, pour it off before using it. (If you are unable to find Greek yogurt—which seems awfully unlikely, since Greek-inspired labels seem to have taken over every dairy case in the land much the way HAIM has taken over every single music blog, but just in case—buy regular plain yogurt and strain it in a few layers of cheesecloth to thicken it up.)
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 to 40 minutes, partially unattended
1 pound cucumbers, peeled if desired, seeded, and roughly chopped
2 cups whole-milk Greek yogurt
Juice of 3 lemons
½ cup chopped fresh dill
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1. Put the chopped cucumbers in a large colander and toss with a large pinch of salt. Put the colander in the sink and let the cucumbers sit for 20 minutes, then gently pat dry with a paper towel.
2. Put the cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice, dill, olive oil, and garlic in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.