Unglamorous vegetables: cucumber

Unglamorous vegetables: cucumbers

by Anna Tobias 2 May 2019

As part of her unglamorous vegetables series, Anna Tobias turns her attention to the humble cucumber, providing three stunning recipes that make the most of an ingredient that's usually simply thrown into salads.

Previously guest head chef at East London favourite P. Franco, Anna Tobias has built a career on simple but effective cookery.

Anna was a relative latecomer to the industry – she studied modern languages at Oxford University before becoming a chef – but in the end, the allure of the kitchen proved too much. After joining Jeremy Lee at the Blueprint Café, Anna's career took her to The River Café and then to Margot Henderson's Rochelle Canteen, where she spent a number of years as head chef.

Anna is a recognisable face in London's restaurant circuit – she held a three-month residency at P. Franco and has hosted supper clubs in and out of the city, going as far as Berlin's Michelberger Hotel.

Anna will be opening Cafe Deco – her first permanent solo restaurant – in 2020 in London.

I refuse to concede that cucumbers are unglamorous – they’re far too inoffensive to warrant such a slander. Though come to think of it, 'inoffensive' is hardly less insulting than 'unglamorous'. Perhaps the notion that cucumbers are boring, insipid in the worst case, is why they are somewhat overlooked as a vegetable.

This current reputation couldn’t be further removed from how cucumbers were viewed in ancient times. Jane Grigson in her Vegetable Book tells of how Ur-Nammu, who lived in Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago, built a temple to the God Nanna to protect his cucumber garden. Similarly, the Roman emperor Tiberius loved cucumber so much that he instructed beds to be constructed and mounted on wheels so that they could be rolled out into the sunshine during the day and returned to shelter as the evening turned chilly.

So, a little more reverence for cucumbers, please.

Below are three quite different recipes for preparing cucumbers. It was difficult to only choose three, as I find cucumbers so delicious and so easy to celebrate in ways other than pickles or as a dipping instrument. I have chosen recipes that are perhaps slightly more out of the ordinary to demonstrate their wide potential.

Chilled cucumber and lovage soup

Chilled cucumber soups are the most refreshing thing on a hot summer’s day. What’s more, this recipe is so simple that it’s a real godsend on scorching days when the idea of cooking seems inconceivable. My mum often used to make cold cucumber soup and this recipe is a slight variation on hers – she would use dill, not lovage. The lovage came about as, whilst I worked at Rochelle Canteen, we had a very enthusiastic lovage plant and so finding ways to use it was always a happy challenge. This soup was my favourite result. Lovage can be a bully with its punchy flavour, so some caution is required.

Stewed cucumbers and brown shrimp

This is an elegant, warm salad that plays on the flavours of traditional potted shrimp. Cooked cucumber recipes are relatively common in older cookbooks but seldom seen these days. I find their texture particularly pleasing – a slippery delight. The pairing of cucumbers and seafood is indisputable so this dish is an easy match.

Cucumber and cashew nut curry

This dish is inauthentic, so my apologies for that. It came about as an experiment of mixing two recipes together and I rather liked it. A mild warning that if you are a person sensitive to somewhat unusual textures then this recipe may not be for you – I am particularly partial to odd textures so the slurpy cucumber and yielding nuts are right up my alley!