My fascination with cucumbers, the small ones, has gone on for some time. As has my fascination with the English language. I was sitting in the backseat of my mom’s Custom Cruiser, probably circa 1975, when we were driving along M-119 Up North, and I saw a roadside sign that made no sense. Mom, what are cuks? I asked, using the short sound of the letter “u,” so it came out rhyming with mucks. Mom looked swiftly to see the sign for “cukes,” and that lady laughed herself silly. I laughed myself silly too, though I had no idea what we were laughing about. It didn’t matter, since in my family we have always enjoyed hilarity for its own sake.
I still like to call cukes cuks, and when I do it still makes my mama laugh. Aren’t we easy?
The Lebanese cuks are thin, smooth, and dark green. They’re especially good, with a sweetness and snap that you don’t find in other varieties. Thin Persian cucumbers are more readily available in recent years, but something about them (cultivation? soil? distance and time from the farm?) is too perfectly uniform, and lackluster.
We eat our cucumbers with real abandon, on the table for every meal including breakfast. I noticed this in Lebanon, where there is always a plate on the table with whole vegetables (Lebanese cukes, tomatoes, onion) along with a knife so you can cut it up yourself (fresher that way).
Also, always, a spray of fresh na’na, or mint. The mint is not meant to be just a pretty garnish. It’s for flavor, a leaf plucked from the stem and tucked in with your bread, veggies, and a spoonful of labne that’s been sprinkled with red pepper flakes and good olive oil. That’s one delicious bite of food.
The Eastern Market stalls offered bushels and bushels of our thin, smooth cuks—a display of them unlike I’ve ever seen anywhere. I’ve heard lots of talk about the cucumber man who used to come by all of the homes of the Lebanese in Lansing and sell them these and yet another variety of Lebanese cucumbers I’ve never seen (sounds like they were short but fuzzy?).
At the Eastern Market, I bought lots and lots and lots of our sleek little beauties. I’ve been handing them out like lollipops, and looking forward each morning to a very, very good Lebanese breakfast.