When we opened Poco in 2011, we made a pledge that our restaurant would produce no waste. Our goal was to eliminate single-use plastic entirely, and to recycle and compost everything. We started by listing all the food products that turned up in plastic (coffee, milk, fruit and vegetables), then came up with solutions. One of the first wins that I remember was cucumbers, which turned out to be as simple as switching our supplier to one who didn’t wrap them in cellophane.
According to the government waste scheme Wrap, plastic packaging accounts for nearly 70% of the UK’s plastic waste, while flexible plastics account for 25% of consumer packaging, yet we recycle only 4%. As consumers, we can more often than not reduce our waste simply by buying unpackaged food stuffs from a good grocer or veg box scheme.
Cucumbers keep better in the crisper drawer of the fridge without plastic wrapping, anyway. And if they do grow old and blemish, just cut out any soft spots and cook them.
Cooking cucumbers on a hot grill is the perfect way to save a tired specimen from the compost bin. Cook them over a very high heat, so they scorch on the outside, which gives them a nice, rounded, savoury flavour. Soaked in an umami-rich dressing, this dish is a flavour bomb of deliciousness. It’s at its best when eaten fresh, but it will also keep well: over time, the cucumbers will marinade and soak up the intense flavours of the dressing, and they’ll keep in the fridge for up to three days.
1 medium cucumber (about 200g)
½ tsp sea salt
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp black rice vinegar, or white-wine vinegar
1 tsp unrefined sugar
½ tsp Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp Chinese chilli oil, or chilli flakes
½ tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp white sesame seeds
Black sesame seeds
Cut the cucumber into thick batons. Heat a griddle pan or barbecue until it is very hot, then grill the cucumber pieces for just a minute on both sides, until scorched but still firm.
Transfer to a bowl, add a generous seasoning of salt, then crush the cucumbers a little with a pestle or the bottom of a jam jar. Dress with the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, Szechuan peppercorns, chilli oil (make sure you add some of the chilli pieces, too)and sesame oil. Top with the sesame seeds, and optional peanuts, black sesame seeds and crisp seaweed, and tuck in.