Cucumbers are enjoyed the world over and recent years have seen great steps taken to breed cucumbers with a good amount of flesh to seed. Peeling or salting has become unnecessary for many of these new varieties. Cooked cucumber is something we avoid totally, preferring them in their crisp, crunchy, juicy, raw state. Rather use cucumber in dips, sandwiches, salsas and salads. Cool and refreshing, the cucumber is a most elegant member of the vegetable family and is at its best from summer to mid-autumn.
By
Allan Campion, Michele Curtis

25 Jan 2010 - 2:09 PM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2015 - 9:16 PM

Cucumber

Cucumbers are enjoyed the world over and recent years have seen great steps taken to breed cucumbers with a good amount of flesh to seed. Peeling or salting has become unnecessary for many of these new varieties. Cooked cucumber is something we avoid totally, preferring them in their crisp, crunchy, juicy, raw state. Rather use cucumber in dips, sandwiches, salsas and salads. Cool and refreshing, the cucumber is a most elegant member of the vegetable family and is at its best from summer to mid-autumn.

Buying
There are several types of cucumbers to choose from. Long slender green cucumbers are the most popular choice followed by Lebanese (small), burpless, apple and the lesser-seen gherkin cucumber. Look for bright unblemished green skins and heavy feel, they should also be firm, not easily bent.

Storing
Store in the crisper section of the refrigerator for 3–5 days. Some recipes call for cucumbers to be peeled, de-seeded and salted. This used to be true when cucumbers were sometimes bitter, but newer varieties have eliminated this quality. Cucumbers are now mostly peeled for decorative purposes. To get slivers or shavings of vegetables, use a vegetable peeler. The long thin strips are much easier to eat in salads as opposed to chunky diced or sliced vegetables.

Preparing
Cucumbers require little preparation to enjoy. Mostly they are sliced and tossed through saladsSome recipes call for cucumbers to be peeled, de-seeded and salted. This used to be true when cucumbers were sometimes bitter, but newer varieties have eliminated this quality. Cucumbers are now mostly peeled for decorative purposes. To get slivers or shavings of vegetables, use a vegetable peeler. The long thin strips are much easier to eat in salads as opposed to chunky diced or sliced vegetables.

Lettuce

Covering a wide base of varieties lettuce is at its best when the weather is warm with some rainfall. An essential summer food, it is generally washed and eaten raw with the addition of salad dressing and other salad vegetables. It can, however also be cooked, particularly the crisphead varieties. We have come along way from the icebergs of the 70s with rocket, watercress and lambs lettuce becoming increasingly popular. There are four main varieties of lettuce; romaines (cos), a tall lettuce with rigid leaves that are tightly packed together.; crispheads (iceberg) with thin leaves, light green, and densely packed together, butterheads, a smaller variety, the leaves are not as tightly packed and are more tender and leaf lettuce, the most varied of the lettuce. Colours can vary from red to dark green. The leaves can be curly or ruffled.

Buying
When buying be sure that they are fresh and crisp, with no signs of wilting, slim, or dark spots or edges.

Storing
Lettuce is a delicate vegetable and great care should be taken when selecting and storing. Lettuce keeps well in plastic bags in the crisper section of the refrigerator for up to a week. The very delicate greens don’t last very long, so it’s best to buy only as much as you need at one time and use immediately.

Preparing
For all lettuce types, you should thoroughly wash and 'dry’ the leaves to remove any dirt or lingering insects. If you eat lettuce often, it’s wise to invest in a salad spinner. Simply rinse the leaves and place in the spinner to remove the excess water.

Serving
In addition to their most common use in salads, you can also braise, steam, sauté and even grill certain lettuce varieties to create a wonderful and different taste treat. Try halving a head of radicchio or romaine lengthwise, and brush on some extra virgin olive oil, and bbq until they soften and just begin to brown-absolutely delicious

Nectarine

Nectarines at market stalls are the real sign that summer is finally here. By this, of course we mean beautifully ripe, heavily-scented fruit, not the picked-too-early crunchy nectarines of spring which are typically hard as a rock, tasteless and a complete waste of money. Some people prefer the smooth surface of nectarines to the fuzziness of peaches. Whichever you preference, the joy of eating a perfumed, juicy nectarine with juice running down your chin is second-to-none.

Buying
Nectarines are available as white and yellow varieties, though there is not a huge difference in taste between the two. They are sometimes labelled as clingstone or freestone fruit too. Freestone fruit is more widely available and is much easier to deal with when preparing fruit for cooking because, as the name suggests, the fruit comes away from the stone easily. Choose firm fruit with some give near the stem. Check for bruising and cuts.

Storing
Nectarines are best kept at room temperature, as their ripeness and perfume develop better in this way.When refrigerated they lose their beautiful aroma.

Serving
Eat raw or cook in tarts, cakes, jams and relishes. Nectarines are excellent lightly roasted or grilled, and make excellent stewed fruit. Peaches and nectarines can be swapped for each other in most recipes.

Melons

There are many varieties of melons, the most common being cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon. Look out for more unusual melons at your local greengrocers or farmer’s market such as casaba, galia and musk melons during the summer months when they are at the peak of their season. A slice of cold watermelon on a hot day is second to none, apart from watermelons though, canteloupes and honeydew are much better at room temperature when their perfumed flesh is much more apparent.

Buying
Look for a clean and smooth break at the stem and for most mature melons have a fruity fragrance. Ensure your melon has no cracks, soft spots, or dark bruises.

Storing
Keep uncut melons at room temperature for two to four days or until fully ripe, then refrigerate for up to 5 days. Refrigerate cut up melon in a covered container up to 3 days. Remember that cut melons are aromatic and their smell will penetrate other foods.

Preparing
Melon preparation is easy. Simply cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds and strings. Melons can be cut into halves, quarters, wedges, cubes, or scooped into balls with a melon baller.