Last summer, while in Honduras on our church mission trip, something I still remember, as clear as if it was yesterday, were the strange cooked vegetables. Well, specifically, one strange, unidentifiable vegetable. The cooks there each day spent lots of time preparing elaborate meals, and everything was wonderful, yet among the cooked vegetables there was this one thing I just couldn’t place. I’ve just realized what it was. They were cooking cucumbers. Don’t ask me why, perhaps cucumbers are cheap in Honduras, though that seems a bit unlikely. They might as well have cooked bananas for the two are equally strange…
So, I was leafing through Julia Child’s, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and found, amidst the aspics, rice molds, and sweet breads, the notorious baked cucumbers. Notorious or not, they sparked my interest, and I was really wondering whether I was right about that bizarre vegetable from a far away land. Would I have to go bushwhacking to obtain this mysterious food item? Or was it a cucumber, something I could find just down the road, but in a form people nowadays couldn’t even conceive?
The strange things people come up with…celery roots in buttermilk, brussels sprout pizza, cardamom ice cream (this sounds like luscious aromatic splendor). Over generations, people have eaten such different things. There have been the times when lard was the most common cooking fat…and now, well, it’s used for…well, I think I once fed birds something that had lard in it. Our house smelled terrible after melting it down…
It’s funny how certain foods go in and out of style. I think it must have to do with what people are given as children. When everyone’s parents find out that lard=a less than optimal cooking medium, they aren’t likely to feed it to their two year old. My favorite comfort food is beans and rice, because it has been a staple as long as I can remember. When I eat too much chocolate or pizza, or don’t get broccoli, I crave fruits and vegetables. I feel like feeding young children interesting flavors and healthy food when they are young is the only sure way to keep them from growing up and making really terrible choices leading to obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle.
Anyways, I am not fond of these cucumbers. They are slimy, scary beasts that freak me out just a bit. On the other hand, both my parents enjoyed them. But bear in mind that my mother has eaten: donkey, sparrow, sea cucumber, snake, snake bile…plus a variety of sea animal-like things…
This is a product of her years in China, where cold remedies including snake bile and “dried sea-cucumbery things.” She reminded me that eggplant is slimy as well, and I adore eggplant, but for some reason, these are just not my cup of tea. Perhaps you’ll like them though…it seems I’m a wee bit less adventurous than I grew up believing myself to be.
Adapted (barely at all) from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1
6, 8-inch long cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Pinch or two of sugar
2 Tablespoons wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh dill or basil (I chose dill)
3 tablespoons melted salted butter
Black pepper, to taste
3-4 tablespoons chopped green onions/scallions (about 3)
First, peel the cucumbers. Then, cut them lengthwise in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut the halves lengthwise into 3/8 inch wide strips, and then cut those strips into thirds, making pieces of about 2 inches in length.
Toss the cucumbers with the salt, sugar, and vinegar and allow cucumbers to sit for at least half an hour so that the water is drawn out from the cucumbers to prevent the final product from being watery.
After having let the cucumbers sit, pour into a colander, and then, place cucumber son a towel and dry them all off. Toss the cucumbers with the butter, dill, pepper, and green onions, and then place in a 12-inch diameter circular baking dish, or something with the same holding capacity.
Bake the cucumbers at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour. Turn the cucumbers over two or three times while baking.