Cucumbers are not just your average salad ingredient. These versatile veggies are a staple in European cuisine and are used in some deliciously unique ways that may surprise you.

From pickled delights to cold soups, Europeans have found creative and delicious ways to incorporate cucumbers into their culinary traditions. So let’s take a tasty journey across Europe to explore how cucumbers are used from classic cucumber sandwiches to tangy salmorejo in Spain, and beyond.

Norwegian Agurksalat

When it comes to Norwegian cuisine, there’s one dish that stands out for its simplicity, tanginess, and refreshing flavours – Agurksalat. This traditional cucumber salad is a staple in Norwegian households, particularly during the summer months, when cucumbers are abundant and at their peak of freshness.

Agurksalat, which translates to “cucumber salad” in English, is incredibly easy to prepare, requiring just a handful of ingredients that are readily available in most kitchens. Thinly sliced cucumbers are marinated in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, dill, and onions, resulting in a tangy and crunchy salad.

White vinegar is commonly used in the dressing, although some variations may use apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar for a slightly different taste. The sugar adds a touch of sweetness to balance out the acidity of the vinegar, while the dill imparts a fresh and aromatic note.

To prepare Agurksalat, the cucumber slices are typically tossed in the dressing and left to marinate for a short period of time, usually around 30 minutes to an hour. This allows the cucumbers to absorb the flavours of the dressing and soften slightly while still retaining their crunch. The result is a tangy and refreshing salad that pairs perfectly with grilled meats, fish, or as a side dish to complement a variety of Scandinavian meals.

Italian Insalata di Gelsi

Insalata di Gelsi, or Mulberry Salad is a popular summer dish in Italy, particularly in the regions of Tuscany and Umbria, where mulberries are abundant during the warm months. The salad combines cucumbers and mulberries, mixed with oil, lemon juice, honey, and mint, creating a refreshing and sweet-savoury flavour profile.

The star ingredient of Insalata di Gelsi is the mulberry, a sweet and juicy fruit that resembles a small berry but has a unique, almost honey-like flavour. Mulberries come in a variety of colours, including red, black, and white, and can be found growing wild in many parts of Italy.

To prepare Insalata di Gelsi, the mulberries are gently rinsed and then tossed with a simple dressing made from olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper.

In Italy, it’s common to serve Insalata di Gelsi with fresh ricotta cheese, which adds a creamy and slightly tangy element that complements the sweetness of the mulberries. Fresh mint or basil leaves are also commonly added to the salad, adding a burst of freshness and aroma.

One of the joys of Insalata di Gelsi is its versatility. It can be served as a side dish, a starter, or even as a dessert, depending on how it’s prepared and presented. Its unique combination of sweet and savoury flavours makes it a perfect addition to a summer picnic, a barbecue, or a light and refreshing meal on a hot day.

In addition to its delicious taste, Insalata di Gelsi also boasts several health benefits. Mulberries are packed with antioxidants, fibre, and vitamins, making them a nutritious addition to your diet. The use of olive oil in the dressing also adds heart-healthy fats and anti-inflammatory properties.

Spanish Salmorejo

Salmorejo is a cold tomato soup from the Andalusian region of Spain that features cucumbers as a key ingredient.

Salmorejo is often compared to its more well-known cousin, Gazpacho, but it has its own unique characteristics that set it apart. While both are cold Spanish soups made with tomatoes, Salmorejo has a creamier and thicker texture. This is due to the addition of bread which is soaked in water and then blended with the other ingredients, giving the soup its velvety smooth consistency.

To make Salmorejo simply blend ripe tomatoes with the soaked bread, cucumbers, olive oil, and vinegar to create a creamy and refreshing soup. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the soup when served and season with diced cucumber, garlic and salt.

Salmorejo is typically served chilled and is often garnished with hard-boiled eggs and diced ham as well as fresh herbs such as chopped parsley or basil, and served with crusty fresh bread.

Hungarian Uborkasaláta

Uborkasaláta is a Hungarian cucumber salad that is known for its creamy and tangy dressing. Thinly sliced cucumbers are mixed with sour cream, vinegar, sugar, dill, and a hint of paprika, this salad offers a burst of freshness and a touch of Hungarian flair to any meal.

Cucumbers are the star ingredient of Uborkasaláta. Hungarian cucumbers are typically used, known for their crispness and slightly sweet flavour. The cucumbers are usually thinly sliced, either peeled or unpeeled and then combined with the other ingredients.

Uborkasaláta has likely been a staple in Hungarian cuisine for generations. It is believed to have originated in the rural regions of Hungary, where cucumbers were readily available during the summer months when they were in season. Cucumber salads have long been enjoyed in many cultures for their cooling properties and ability to provide hydration during hot summers, and Hungarian cuisine is no exception.

Traditional Hungarian cuisine is known for its emphasis on simple, fresh, and flavorful ingredients, and Uborkasaláta is a perfect example of this culinary philosophy.

The use of sour cream, vinegar, and dill in the dressing is characteristic of Hungarian flavours, as these ingredients are commonly used in Hungarian cooking. The addition of paprika also adds a distinctive Hungarian twist to the salad, as paprika is a spice that is widely used in Hungarian cuisine for its smoky and rich flavour.

Today, Uborkasaláta continues to be a beloved dish in Hungary and beyond, with many variations and adaptations to suit different tastes and preferences. Some modern variations may include additional ingredients such as red onions, garlic, or even a touch of honey for added sweetness.

Dill is a herb that plays a prominent role in Hungarian cuisine, and it’s a key ingredient in Uborkasaláta as well. Fresh dill is usually finely chopped and added to the salad, giving it a distinct and aromatic flavour. The dill adds a touch of freshness and brightness to the dish, enhancing the overall taste.

Uborkasaláta is typically served chilled, making it a perfect side dish for hot summer days. It’s a versatile dish that can accompany a wide variety of meals, such as grilled meats, sausages, or even as a topping for sandwiches. Its refreshing and tangy flavours make it a palate-cleansing addition to any meal.

British Cucumber Sandwiches

The quintessential British delicacy, the cucumber sandwich, has a long and storied history that spans back to the 19th century. Thinly sliced cucumbers are placed between slices of white buttered bread, often with the crusts removed, and seasoned with salt and pepper. This simple yet elegant sandwich has become a beloved staple of British tea parties, picnics, and afternoon teas.

The origins of the cucumber sandwich can be traced back to the Victorian era in England, a time when tea parties and social gatherings were popular among the upper class. During this time, the British aristocracy was known for their elaborate and refined social customs, including the tradition of serving delicate sandwiches as part of their tea-time spread.

Cucumbers, which were introduced to Britain in the 17th century, became a popular ingredient for these tea-time sandwiches due to their refreshing taste and crisp texture. However, during the Victorian era, cucumbers were often considered a luxury ingredient, as they were not readily available year-round and were therefore considered a delicacy.

The cucumber sandwich as we know it today, with thinly sliced cucumbers, butter, and possibly herbs or other fillings, is said to have been popularized by the British writer and socialite, Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford. The Duchess is credited with popularizing the concept of afternoon tea and is said to have enjoyed cucumber sandwiches as part of her tea-time spread. Her love for these dainty sandwiches is said to have spread among the upper-class circles, and cucumber sandwiches quickly became a fashionable and sought-after delicacy.

Over time, the cucumber sandwich became a symbol of British high society and a staple of British culinary culture. It was often served at formal social events, such as garden parties, weddings, and afternoon teas, as a delicate and refreshing option for guests to enjoy. The sandwich’s simplicity and elegance made it a popular choice for light and sophisticated fare, particularly during the warm summer months when cucumbers were in season.

Today, the British cucumber sandwich remains a beloved classic, enjoyed by people of all backgrounds and social classes. It is often served at traditional British events, such as Wimbledon tennis matches, Ascot horse races, and royal events.

Swedish Inlagd Gurka

Inlagd Gurka, also known as Swedish Pickled Cucumbers, is a beloved culinary delight in Sweden. These tangy and sweet pickled cucumbers are a staple in Swedish cuisine, often enjoyed as a side dish, topping for open-faced sandwiches (smörgås), or a condiment to accompany a variety of dishes Inlagd Gurka is simply made by pickling cucumbers in a mixture of vinegar, water, sugar, and spices such as dill and mustard seeds.

Inlagd Gurka is believed to have originated from the southern region of Sweden, known as Skåne, where cucumbers were grown abundantly. The reservation method has been used for centuries to extend the shelf life of vegetables. The tradition of pickling cucumbers in Sweden can be traced back to the 18th century when preserving food for the long winter months was crucial.

The flavour of Inlagd Gurka is a delightful balance of tangy and sweet notes. The vinegar provides the tanginess, while the sugar adds a subtle sweetness to the cucumbers. The spices, such as dill and mustard seeds, add depth and complexity to the pickling brine, giving it a distinctive Scandinavian taste.

The cucumbers used for pickling are typically smaller and thinner-skinned, known as “salladsgurka” or salad cucumbers in Sweden. These are usually sliced thinly, either into rounds or lengthwise into spears, before being soaked in the pickling brine.

Inlagd Gurka holds a special place in Swedish culinary culture and is a beloved traditional dish. It is often served as a side dish with traditional Swedish dishes, such as meatballs (köttbullar), herring (sill), or gravlax (cured salmon). It is also a popular topping for open-faced sandwiches (smörgås) and hot dogs (korv) in Sweden.

In Swedish cuisine, pickled vegetables, including cucumbers, play an essential role in providing contrasting flavors and textures to balance out the richness of other dishes. The tanginess of the pickled cucumbers adds a refreshing and acidic contrast to the richness of meat or fish, making it a versatile and delicious accompaniment to a wide range of dishes.

In addition to its culinary significance, Inlagd Gurka is also a cultural symbol in Sweden. It is often associated with Swedish traditions and celebrations, such as Midsummer (Midsommar) festivities, where pickled cucumbers are commonly served as part of the traditional smörgåsbord (buffet). Pickling is also a popular homemade preserving method in Sweden, with many families having their own recipes and variations of Inlagd Gurka that have been passed down through generations.

Turkish Cacik

Cacik is a traditional Turkish dish that resembles the Greek tzatziki. It is made with diced cucumbers, yogurt, garlic, mint, and salt, and is often served as a side dish or a dip. Cacık is known for its cooling properties and is a popular accompaniment to grilled meats or kebabs.

The yoghurt used in Cacık is typically made from strained or thickened yoghurt, which gives it a creamy and rich texture. Cucumbers are usually peeled, seeded, and finely chopped or grated to add a refreshing crunch to the dish. Garlic is used to add a pungent kick, while fresh herbs like dill, mint, or parsley are added for their aromatic flavours. Spices such as salt and black pepper are used to season the dish, and sometimes lemon juice is also added for an extra tangy twist.

Cacık has a long history in Turkish cuisine and is believed to have originated in the Ottoman Empire, which spanned three continents and incorporated a rich culinary heritage from various regions.

The dish holds a special place in Turkish culinary culture and is considered a staple side dish or dip. It is commonly served in Turkish households, restaurants, and gatherings, especially during the hot summer months. Also, Cacik plays a crucial role as part of the traditional Turkish meze spread, which consists of a variety of small appetizers or sid dishes, during special occasions, such as weddings, festivals, or family gatherings.

It is also considered a healthy dish, as yogurt is known for its probiotic properties and is believed to have health benefits for digestion and gut health.