Cucumber is the coolest fruit
Cucumbers are unfairly underestimated in the pantheon of ingredients. Granted, they don’t have the glamour of a soft, zingy, bull’s heart tomato, or the sex appeal of a perfectly ripe fig; but they are surprisingly versatile and have a persistent, delicate flavour and refreshing crunch that can hold its own against some tough competition. Smacked cucumbers are bang on trend, a fun thing to cook and a real hit on the “snacks” section of my Dock Kitchen menu or, as they are here, served as a side with some simple grilled fish. I think people order them for the name: “smacked” is such an eloquently naughty word and they are satisfying to make for the same reason – you literally smack the cucumbers with a rolling pin to break them up a bit. This vegetable GBH (though the cucumber, like other members of the gourd family, is technically a fruit) is obviously unacceptable behaviour, but the point is to break the cell walls and release more flavour. You then season the chunks of cucumber as you will, though for me the must-haves are ginger, garlic, soy and vinegar — sometimes I also slice a mild chilli and mix it in.
At Dock Kitchen I always have jugs of agua fresca at the top of the menu. We make it with the different fruits of the season, and often use cucumbers. Mixed with lime juice and sugar syrup, the delicate cucumber flavour comes across in a new light. For a bit more of a kick I like to use a slice of cucumber in place of lemon in a gin and tonic.
I use cucumbers as a proper vegetable as often as I use them in salads. They cook very well as part of a fish stew or, as here, roasted with late-summer vegetables and chicken, where they end up a little bit like courgettes.
Cucumber curry may seem a bit off the wall. But it’s a traditional Sri Lankan dish and is completely, totally, utterly and fantastically delicious. If you want to up the protein levels, add some beautiful fish.
Makes about six glasses 3 cucumbers 300g/10½oz caster sugar Juice of 2 limes Ice Sparkling water A few mint leaves, to garnish
Wash the cucumbers, then roughly slice them and place in a large bowl. Add the sugar, then toss it all together with your hands. Cover with cling film, then leave to macerate in the fridge for at least two hours.
Place the cucumbers in a blender or food processor and blend until fine. Pass through a sieve twice, discarding any solids. Pour into a large jug, then squeeze in the lime juice. Fill the jug with ice, then top it up with sparkling water. Rip over a few mint leaves, then pour into glasses and serve.
Serves six You want everything to be cut into similar-size chunks 3 ripe plum tomatoes or 300g/10½oz baby tomatoes, or a mix 1 red onion, sliced 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced 1 small red pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks 1 large aubergine, cut into chunks 1 cucumber, cut into chunks 1 bunch of basil, leaves picked, a handful put aside to garnish 1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed 3 tbsp red wine vinegar Olive oil 3 chicken thighs and 3 drumsticks, or a 1.8kg/4lb chicken, jointed
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Prepare the tomatoes first. Bring a pan of water to the boil and score each tomato lightly. Very carefully drop the tomatoes into the boiling water, leave for 30 seconds, then scoop out with a slotted spoon into a bowl of cold water. Slip the skins off, then, if using plum tomatoes, cut into large chunks, or if using baby tomatoes, cut them in half.
Place in a large baking tin along with the other vegetables, the herbs and coriander seeds. Season everything well with salt and pepper, then pour over the vinegar and a really good drizzle of oil. Mix well with your hands and place in the oven for 10 minutes while you brown the chicken.
Working quickly (so as not to overcook the veg), heat up a large frying pan with a drizzle of oil.
Season the chicken with a little salt, then brown in batches in the pan until a deep golden colour. Take the vegetables out the oven and sit the chicken on top of the vegetables.
Return, uncovered, to the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender and browned at the edges. Sprinkle with the remaining basil before serving. Ideally you want to use a bamboo steamer for the fish; otherwise, make a parcel out of greaseproof paper
Serves four 4 x 200g/7oz cod fillets A large thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced into matchsticks 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced 4 tbsp soy sauce 2 tsp sesame oil A handful of coriander leaves, to serve Smacked cucumbers 2 cucumbers 1 tbsp salt 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced 2 tbsp soy sauce 1 heaped tbsp caster sugar 2 tbsp Chinkiang or other ‘black’ rice vinegar 2 tbsp mirin
If you have a steamer, simply place the cod on a piece of greaseproof paper and lay the ginger and chilli on top, then spoon over the soy and sesame oil.
Alternatively, preheat your oven to 200C/400F/gas 6 and use larger pieces of greaseproof paper so you can fold up the sides like a parcel — not too tightly.