Poor old cucumber. Not a serious contender nutritionally (all that water you see), an afterthought for the salad bowl, grudgingly eaten as batons and dipped into no-fat dip as a dieter’s punishment. In other words, a bit low on the food totem pole.
But it has been getting a bit more love recently. Not big love, like freekeh, or dirty burgers or courgetti. But big enough if you are a cucumber. You may have even been indulging in a bit of cucumber appreciation yourself if you are a water drinker like I am, and trying to keep it interesting. Hm, now there’s an adjective usually never associated with cucumbers.
Any cafe or restaurant, or dining table of note has to have some kind of herbage floating in the water jug. Mostly fresh mint, even lemon verbena, but often the tell-tale pale green disks or wafer-thin strips catch your eye, and often smack into your teeth if you aren’t paying close attention. I never really thought of cucumber as adding very much except for texture until I first tried it infused in water. I was surprised how much freshness it added. Which is all the more surprising seeing as Scottish water is naturally very refreshing. Especially if you fall into it off a paddle board…
And I wondered how it would be sautéed. Would altering its most redeeming feature – firm, crisp texture – to something slippery and pasta-like be at all a good thing? Let’s just say that I was picking the slips of fried cucumber from the pan and into my mouth before it could make it into the salad. I had to go buy another cucumber. Seriously. One by one I plucked them from the pan, dragged them through a little puddle of lemon juice and straight into my mouth.
So it is unsurprising to me that my family, especially Andrew, really loved this warm, filling salad.
The smoky, chewy texture of the freekeh and the earthy, rich Beluga lentils remind me of pebble beaches, with the cucumber the frondy seaweed that laps the shore. I’m not sure what the pomegranates remind me of but they interject a sweet-sharp freshness that I think is needed. Try a little extra lemon or some pomegranate molasses/syrup if you don’t have fresh pomegranate.
I’ve since found out that sautéed cucumber is a French thing. Batons (the dreaded batons) are fried in butter with onion, a little sugar and perhaps some rosemary or other Provencal herb, then mixed with sour cream. This sounds a rich, but gratifyingly simple and elegant way to treat an under-rated vegetable. Perhaps my own peasant-style recipe could marry this chic French one, give or take a pomegranate.
Have you ever eaten sautéed cucumber? Love it, loathe it, or indifferent to it?
Sauteed Cucumber, Freekeh and Black Lentil Salad with Pomegranate
If the idea of sautéing cucumber freaks you out too much just use them raw. But do be daring and give it a go as written for a surprisingly hearty vegetarian meal salad. I’ve included seasonal and grows-like-a-weed lovage (I have tons of the stuff right now) but leave this out if it’s tricky to get. Top with crumbles of organic sheep’s milk feta too – super delicious. xx
200g of cooked, warm freekeh (ready-made from Merchant Gourmet is good)
200g cooked, warm black Beluga lentils or Puy lentils (basically the firmest lentils available)
Juice of ½ lemon plus zest of whole lemon
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 long, English cucumber, cut in half (not lengthways)
1 tsp freshly ground cumin
½ red onion, small dice
Handful of parsley, chopped
Palmful of lovage (more if you really like this herb), chopped
Handful of small sugarsnap peas or mange tout (snow peas), washed and de-stringed if needed
Seeds from one small pomegranate
Sheep’s milk feta cheese, optional (not shown) for garnish
Sea salt, to taste
1. Mix together the lentils and freekeh with the lemon juice and zest in a serving bowl and set aside.
2. Take the cucumber and slice into long, thin strips. Heat the oil to medium-high in a sauté pan and lay strips in the heated oil. Fry the cucumber for about four-five minutes on each side. They will release water but that’s okay. If you wish to salt the cucumbers first to draw out some of the water, go ahead but I’m too impatient. Set aside on kitchen paper for now. Keep the oil on the hob.
3. Now add the red onion and cumin to the pan and sauté gently until the onion is very soft – about five minutes.
4. To assemble the salad, mix the cooked onion (with the oil and pan juices) and cumin into the lentils/freekeh, followed by the herbs, sugarsnaps, pomegranate and sautéed cucumber. Fork through a little more oil if it appears at all dry. Garnish with cheese if you like, or salt to taste. Serve at room temperature with good bread. Leftovers are very nice for lunch the following day.