I never understood the beauty of a cucumber until I spent two weeks traveling through the tropical climes of the Costa Rican rainforest. We hiked for six to seven hours each day. Only five if we were very lucky and the rain cooperated.
We lived for a single ray of sunshine.
My sister and I shared the physical and emotional weight of the experience together, covered in mud, soaked by a steady rain, and at times carrying up to five liters of water in our packs in the more isolated areas. We spent much of the time bearing the emotional burden in a communal silence of mutual understanding.
We had never traveled together before. Only I had been abroad and neither of us had been to Latin America where the language and the customs carried a wholly unfamiliar rhythm. But we were young and strong and utterly moved by the way of life we encountered there, the simplicity of it.
The families we stayed with lived in open-air homes made of wood and concrete. The boundaries between outside and inside, between public and private, were continuously blurred. They spent the days as we did at home but in a world we could barely recognize. We slept on the floor, helped the families with their daily chores, and spent a lot of time learning to entertain ourselves in the way of our parents’ generation. It is a world of the one-room schoolhouse, with no books to speak of, where the parents bring a home-cooked meal to the children on horseback each day. It is a world where shoes are rarely worn. Where the eggs sit out because there is no refrigerator. Where la pura vida is a mantra not just spoken but lived.
I ate three generous meals day of only two ingredients–rice and beans. If you were lucky, a scrambled egg or a bottle of Lizano salsa would find its way to the table, but otherwise you learned to make do, to understand that food was about fueling your body for the next journey. Sometime near the middle of our trip, when our reserves of patience and optimism were running low, one of our guides appeared smiling giddily and bearing a single cucumber which he held out to me with a simple gesture. We ate it whole. When I bit into it, I reeled for a moment, the taste a small revelation. It was unlike anything I remembered, so simple and so clean. I could barely stop myself from devouring the entire thing in that moment, and sharing became a new art form.
Summer Cucumber Salad
Cucumber is almost always best served in a gin and tonic. Almost. In the summer, however, when it’s hard to force yourself to use the oven, it’s nice to take any cucumbers you have leftover from your libations and use them to make this refreshing summer salad. It’s not how the Costa Ricans do it, but it’ll do.
- 1 cucumber
- 2 springs dill
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Slice the cucumber into thin slices. Chop the dill and add to the cucumbers. In a small bowl, add the rice wine vinegar, sugar and pepper flakes, and whisk. Pour over the cucumbers and allow to rest for about 10 minutes, until the cucumbers are slightly macerated.