Plain cucumbers are a pretty great vegetable. They require minimal preparation, are crunchy and satisfying, and don’t leave your hands sticky or messy. But even cucumbers can be elevated to greater deliciousness and versatility with a clever kitchen tip that you may not be aware of—salting.
When you salt cucumber pieces or slices and let them sit for 30 minutes in a colander, the salt draws out excess moisture which then drains away. This means that the cucumber will release less water into whatever dish you’re adding it to, such as tzatziki, tabbouleh, Greek salad, or potato salad.
This technique is especially helpful when you are dealing with creamy sauces and dressings. As the Daily Meal points out, “Picture adding water to sour cream—have you got the ick?” Same goes for mayonnaise- and yogurt-based sauces. These are not meant to be watery.
But even in a salad with clear vinaigrette, too much water will make lettuce wilt and herbs and grains turn soggy, especially if they sit for any time at all. (The same idea applies to tomatoes, which is why you should always add them at the last minute when serving them freshly chopped.) Plus, a salted cucumber is better able to absorb dressing and explode with flavor when it comes time to eat. It will have had a chance to absorb seasoning and become flavored from within, rather than just having it sit on the surface.
Other vegetables that benefit from pre-salting include zucchini, cabbage, eggplant, summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and even tomatoes (sometimes). These vegetables are usually cooked before eating, and salting helps prevent them from getting mushy and bland. According to America’s Test Kitchen, “Salting these watery vegetables draws out extra water and flavor molecules. So don’t skip this step—it allows more flavor to soak in and helps the veggies stand up to more heat and heavier dressings.”
How to Salt Cucumbers
Wash the cucumbers, peel if desired, and cut into the shape you need. Place in a bowl and toss with enough kosher salt to coat evenly (approximately 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per pound). Transfer to a colander set over a bowl or sink and let sit for 30 minutes. You can squeeze some of the pieces to release even more moisture, then dry with a clean towel or paper towel. You do not need to rinse.
If you don’t have time to salt them and let them sit, you should always cut out the center strip of seeds, which holds much of the unwanted moisture. Cut the cucumber in quarters lengthwise, and then run your knife down the middle of the slice to remove the seeds. Your salad, dip, or veggie tray will be drier, crunchier, and tastier—and soon you’ll never want to do it any other way.