PHOTOGRAPHY BY MOLLIE KIMBERLING
In the culinary world, the cucumber is often relegated to a supporting role — pickled and served alongside a beefy burger and fries, wedged in between a variety of veggies on a colorful crudité platter, or sprinkled as a mere garnish to a lettuce-heavy salad.
However, the ubiquitous cylindrical green gourd — technically considered a fruit because it contains seeds and grows from the flower of the cucumber plant — is ready for its closeup. Thanks to the cuke’s mild flavor, crunchy texture, and refreshing properties (it’s made up of more than 95 percent water), the unsung ingredient can easily become the star of both dishes and drinks all year long in the Coachella Valley.
Here are three ways that chef Kieran Fleming, director of food and beverage at Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs, is featuring cool cucumbers on many of his menus right now.
The Cucumber-Tomato-Basil Salad at Java Caliente.
At Java Caliente — the casino’s café that serves all-day breakfast as well as sandwiches, salads, housemade soups, and ever-changing daily specials — Fleming has created a bright salad that pairs cucumbers with ripe cherry tomatoes, incorporates fresh basil and sliced red onion, and tosses it all with a tangy housemade dill vinaigrette. “I use English cucumbers because they have a thinner skin and also fewer seeds in them,” he says. Fleming chops them to the same size as the cherry tomatoes, thus creating the perfect bite. “It’s a flavorful late-summer salad and a great lunch option on hot days.”
Korean Cucumber Kimchee
At 360 Sports Palm Springs, the casino’s buzzy and luxurious sports bar, the kitchen isn’t just serving a twist on bar food favorites, but also a variety of Asian fare. (Of the trio of 360 venues across the Coachella Valley, the Palm Springs location is the only one with a specialty Asian section on its menu.) While traditional kimchee relies on fermented cabbage as its base, Fleming swaps in cucumbers to create his customized version to pair with the restaurant’s decadent bone-in Korean short ribs. “We toss the English cucumbers with a lot of the same ingredients as you use in kimchee: gochugaru, a Korean red chili pepper spice, soy sauce, sesame seeds, green onions, garlic, and a little bit of sugar to give it those kimchee flavors.”
“Cucumbers help you hydrate. That’s why you see them a lot in spa water and green juices.”
Fun fact: 360 Sports makes almost everything from scratch, including its own pickles, soaking cucumbers in a vinegar-based brine for 24 hours to churn out the special spears.
Casino guests in search of the perfect refreshing summer cocktail don’t have to look far. This cuke-infused take on a vodka martini blends the spirit with lemon juice, a dash of simple syrup, muddled cucumbers with mint, and the delightful touch of elderflower liqueur to create a pretty, pale-green drink served in a martini glass and garnished with a cucumber wheel. If you need an excuse to imbibe, remember: Cucumbers are good for you. “Cucumbers help you hydrate,” Fleming explains. “That’s why you see them a lot in spa water and green juices.”
Here’s to staying cool as a cucumber!
• 4 small cucumbers, preferably Korean or Japanese, thinly sliced
• 2 small carrots, thinly sliced
• 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
• 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 3 tablespoons gochugaru crushed Korean red chili pepper
• 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
• 3 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
• 2 garlic cloves minced
• Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
1. Toss cucumbers, carrots, and onion together in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle salt over the vegetables and toss to mix. Let stand for about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir the gochugaru, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and garlic until thoroughly combined.
3. After the vegetables have finished soaking in the salt, drain the excess water from the bottom of the bowl. Rinse the vegetables thoroughly in cold water, drain again, and pat dry with paper towels or a clean dishtowel. Return the vegetables to the mixing bowl.
4. Add the sauce mixture to the vegetables and toss until the vegetables are well coated.
The dish can be served immediately, or you can let it ferment at room temperature overnight.
Garnish the dish with sesame seeds before serving, if desired.
Serve cold or at room temperature.
• 3-inch piece of cucumber seeded, chopped
• 2-3 fresh mint leaves
• 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
• 3 ounces vodka
• 1 ounce St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
• 1/2 ounce simple syrup
• 2 dashes cucumber bitters
• Thinly sliced cucumber to garnish
1. Add the chopped cucumber, mint leaves, and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker. Crush the cucumbers and mint using a muddler.
2. Fill the cocktail shaker with ice. Top with vodka, elderflower liqueur, and simple syrup.
3. Shake vigorously.
4. Strain into a martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a thinly sliced cucumber on a cocktail pick.
This story originally appeared in Me Yah Whae: The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Fall/Winter 2023.