Too Cool for Salad

Cucumbers take the edge off of the heat

In the middle of a cucumber field, people swear the air is about 20 degrees cooler. With warm weather arriving late and with a vengeance, sweaty, cranky people might find it helpful to channel a cucumber field, much like a claustrophobic focuses on the idea of an open space.

Science is more convincing when it comes to the temperature inside a cucumber (again, 20 degrees cooler than the outside air). So, whether it's an English, Persian, or Japanese cuke, we might be better off just cutting them open and sticking our faces in. If that seems like inappropriate public behavior, there are other alternatives to the usual sliced or diced salad filler—edible or not. You can cool your feet with a cucumber footbath at Jin Soon Natural Hand & Foot Spa or sooth your eyes with thin slices, like stressed-out moms are always doing on sit-coms.

Cucumbers are often paired with spicy food to provide a welcome extinguishing effect. At any location of the Grand Sichuan empire, one is hereby emphatically urged to obtain the cucumbers with fresh garlic (a cold dish) before a single Dan Dan noodle passes between his or her lips. At Café el Portal, the cucumber water will help you cope with the chile-rubbed pork tacos, and the heat outside. At another Mexican restaurant, El Barrio Chino, a salad of watermelon, jicama, and cucumbers cools things down fast.

The form I would most like to dump over my head in August, though, is cucumbers in yogurt (mint is a favorite the third element). A version of it exists in many hot climates. The Indian version is raita (try it at Chennai Garden), which goes well plopped onto almost any dish, but especially with hot ones. The Greeks have tzatziki, with the liberal addition of raw garlic (try it at Yoghurt Place II), which is particularly delectable on barbecued lamb (at Philoxenia), or scooped up with sliced baked potatoes. There is a Turkish cold soup called cacik (at Akdeniz), and the Persians make a dip (try it at Persepolis) and a drink called doogh. The list goes on.

In addition to its cooling powers, the crunch of a good cucumber is crucial. Choose thin-skinned, firm ones for salads or to add crunch to a sandwich, like in a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich, which you can try at Ba Xuyjen, on buttered, crust-less, tea sandwiches, or on Chicago-style hotdogs, at the Shake Shack. For cucumbers, seeds are the culprits of mush, so look for long thin ones or small ones, but avoid the fatties. English cucumbers are sometimes labeled "seedless" and can be as long as two feet. Persians are sweet and crunchy but small and expensive. Pickling cucumbers have small seeds and are quite crunchy, as long as they are fresh. Choose any of these over regular garden cucumbers, which come coated in a thick layer of wax and have to be peeled. And if you're too hot to make dinner, drink your cucumbers—Shebeen makes a cucumber martini, and Café el Portal makes margaritas.

 
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