As the days grow longer and warmer, one of the most pleasing treats to come from the farm and garden is the cucumber. With its crisp, refreshing texture and mild, soothing flavor, this member of the gourd family is one of the most versatile vegetables around.

Most people enjoy cucumbers in one of two ways: sliced raw in salads or pickled in spiced vinegar. But that barely begins to explore the possibilities they offer to cooks.

Have you ever tried cooking them? Briefly sauteing the pieces of the vegetable in hot olive oil or butter makes it taste even juicier, while intensifying its flavor, providing a wonderful side dish for mild-tasting proteins like fish or chicken.

How about cucumber desserts? I've encountered delicious recipes for sorbets made with cucumber and maybe a complementary ingredient such as pineapple or fresh mint. Just imagine how refreshing that might taste on a hot summer day.

And, speaking of refreshment, don't forget the role cucumber can play in beverages. A spear of cucumber is a classic part of the English summer cocktail known as a Pimm's Cup. And many spas simply steep slices of the vegetable in pitchers of cold water to make thirst-quenching cucumber water.

I like to make use of the cucumber's subtle flavor and vibrant color in yet another way: as the foundation for a sauce. In the recipe I share here, the sauce, made with the thickly peeled edible skins of cucumbers, accompanies quickly pan-seared sea scallops dusted with curry powder. You can easily imagine how wonderfully the vegetable's cooling qualities counterpoint the hot spices. (It's interesting, by the way, that the cool cucumber originated in the Indian subcontinent, also home to hot curry spices.)

Not so long ago, stores offered limited choices in cucumbers. Often, you'd find only one type: large, plump-looking vegetables with thick, usually bitter skins you had to peel, and large seeds many people scooped out before slicing what was left into crescent shapes. Today, so-called English or hothouse cucumbers are more widely available, often sold individually shrink-wrapped to preserve their freshness. These longer, more slender specimens have thin, pleasant-tasting skins you can leave on, and smaller seeds. And then there are the wonderful types from the Middle East such as Persian, Armenian, or Lebanese cucumbers, all small and slender, with delicately aromatic flavors.

Whatever variety you buy, select specimens that are firm, with no soft spots or wrinkled skins that may indicate they're less than fresh. Store them in the refrigerator's vegetable bin, either in their original plastic shrink-wrap or, otherwise, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag. Use within a week of purchase.

I hope you'll find many ways to enjoy cucumbers in your own cooking this season.

Seared Curried Scallops With Cucumber Sauce

Serves 6 as an appetizer, 2 as a main course


1 medium-sized organic hothouse cucumber

1/4 cup packed Italian (flat-leafed) parsley leaves

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar


Freshly ground black pepper

2 large cage-free egg yolks

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup light sesame oil

1/4 cup almond oil


6 large fresh sea scallops, about 1/2 pound total weight, connective tissue removed from sides


Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup mild to moderately spicy curry powder

1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon salted butter


1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh organic chives

6 tablespoons salmon caviar

For the sauce, first use a paring knife or swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the cucumber in thick strips. With a knife, coarsely chop the skin. Reserve the rest of the cucumber for another use such as a salad or crudites.

Put the chopped cucumber skin in a blender with the parsley, rice wine vinegar, and a little salt and pepper. Add the egg yolks and sugar and blend for 30 seconds. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the sesame and almond oils in a slow, steady stream to form a thick, creamy sauce. Transfer to a bowl and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning with a little more salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.

Season the scallops with salt and pepper and set aside. Put the curry powder in a small, dry saute pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it becomes very aromatic, about 30 seconds. Immediately transfer the curry powder to a shallow bowl or plate. Add the flour and stir well. Dredge the scallops all over in the curry-flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Set them aside on a clean plate.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the peanut oil and heat it until almost smoking. Add the scallops and saute them, undisturbed, until their undersides are golden brown, about 30 seconds. With tongs, turn the scallops over; add the butter and saute the scallops until their other sides are browned, about 30 seconds longer. Transfer to paper towels to drain briefly.

Spoon a pool of sauce on the center of each serving plate. Divide the scallops among the plates, placing them on top of the sauce. Spoon some salmon caviar on top of each scallop and flowing down into the sauce. Garnish with chives.

Seafood, Wolfgang Puck, American


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Seared Curried Scallops With Cucumber Sauce

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