Dec 27, 2023

Recipes: Cucumber is often overlooked but it can be the star of the show

Crispy herb fried sole with braised cucumber and dill, cucumber emulsion

Meringues with strawberries and cream

Cucumber is often overlooked, buried into a salad or as texture in a sandwich. If you’re lucky enough to source a locally grown cucumber, make it the star of the show not an afterthought. A cucumber grown here will have infinitely more flavour and character than one generically produced in a Dutch green house. Embrace their misshapen and knobbly skin.

Last year someone gave me a big bag of cucumbers they’d grown and I pickled the excess. Simmer 250ml water with 250ml of cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sugar, salt to taste, a tablespoon of toasted mustard seeds and some chopped dill. Slice the cucumber and place in a sterilized jar and pour the hot liquor on top ensuring it's submerged. Seal and enjoy throughout the winter. It's lovely served with oily fish, in a burger or to pep up a salad.

Most cucumber recipes suggest ways to serve the cucumber raw although hot cucumber is something we should embrace. In the recipe here its peeled, deseeded and cut into wedges before cooking with shallots, butter, white wine, a little stock and finished off with dill. Serve it with poached salmon, grilled fish or the herb fried fish here.

There are trimmings with the cucumber recipe so I’ve added a suggestion for an emulsion with them blended with a shallot and wine reduction, mustard and some Xanthan gum to form a mayonnaise like sauce.

Local strawberries are coming into season now and I feel compelled to eat as many of them as possible when they’re at their best. One of the best ways to eat them, in my book, is anointed with a little cream and nothing else.

The sharp, sweet, juicy berry works so well with the rich fat. For something lighter a granita is a refreshing way to enjoy the fruit. Translated from the Italian as "grainy," it's crystals of sweet fruit puree. Boil 125ml water with 25g glucose and cool. Whizz with 300g of strawberries then pour into plastic container. After an hour, plough up with a fork and repeat every hour for four hours. Lovely on its own or in a chilled glass topped up with sparkling wine.

Meringues and strawberries are a match made in heaven and a simple but spectacular way to showcase the berries. In the recipe here for meringue I fold a mixture of castor sugar and icing sugar into a fluffy egg white mixture. Cornflour and a little vinegar is added to stabilise and it's piped into rounds on parchment paper. With some of the excess meringue they’re piped into cylinders to add as a garnish. When the meringues are cold, top with some cream and sliced strawberries.

A good meringue is an essential in your culinary arsenal. Top it with summer berries now and with the changing seasons add different fruits like plums, blackcurrants, pear or blackberries – the common thread being that billow of sweetness that brings the whole thing together.

Crispy herb fried sole with braised cucumber and dill, cucumber emulsion

What you’ll need

8 flat fish fillets (sole or plaice are good), skinned

Seasoned flour for dusting

2 eggs beaten

100g panko breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 dessertspoon chopped chives

1 tablespoon finely chopped basil or dill

Oil for frying


Mix the breadcrumbs with the herbs.

Coat the fish in the flour, shake off the excess and then coat in the egg.

Dip in the breadcrumbs to coat. Heat half a thumb nail depth of oil in a pan and when an added crumb sizzles add the fish. Cook for about 1 minute on each side and keep warm while you cook the rest. Drain on kitchen paper.

For the braised cucumber and dill

1 cucumber

2 shallots, finely chopped

50g butter

100ml dry white wine or dry cider

100ml chicken stock or water

1 tablespoon dill

Peel the cucumber and cut into 6 pieces lengthwise. Quarter each piece and remove seeds. Cut each quarter in half on a bias. Heat half the butter and gently cook the shallot until soft. Add the cucumber and cook for a minute. Add the wine and stock and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the remaining butter and remove from heat. Check seasoning and add the dill.

For the cucumber emulsion

100ml white wine

25g finely chopped shallot

100ml chicken stock

50g cucumber trimmings

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1.5g Xanthan gum

Place the wine and shallot in saucepan and boil to reduce all the liquid.

Add the fish stock and cucumber trimmings and bring to a simmer. Chill until cold.

Add the mustard and Xanthan gum and blend to desired consistency.

Strain through a sieve and check seasoning.

Meringues with strawberries and cream

Meringues with strawberries and cream

What you’ll need

100g egg whites

100g castor sugar

100g icing sugar

2 teaspoons cornflour

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar


Set oven to 100oc and line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.

Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl with an electric whisk to stiff peaks.

Mix the sugars together and add in 3 increments to the egg white.

Whisk in the cornflour and vinegar and spoon mixture into a piping bag.

Pipe four big swirls onto the paper and then pipe little cylinders with the remaining meringue.

Bake for about an hour and then turn the oven off and allow the meringues to cool and set.

To assemble

250g strawberries, hulled, cut in quarters and each quarter in half again

250ml double cream, whipped

Spoon the cream onto the top of the cooled meringues and dot over the strawberries and meringue cylinders.

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