New Delhi, April 27 -- May is often the cruelest month across India, with the heat roiling through towns, cities and villages, sending the most resilient folk indoors in search of a magic panacea. That panacea often takes the shape of the simple cucumber. Sliced, salted, pickled or juiced, the cucumber (Cucumis sativus) comes into its own during summer, transforming from a secondary salad staple into a hero ingredient.

As a school-going child, my memories of a Kolkata summer are invariably twinned with skinny cucumbers. Lunch dabbas and mid-morning snacks on vacations comprised glistening cucumbers doused with rock salt and a slight squeeze of lime. In Kolkata, the British Raj infused all traditions and evenings would be ushered in with te...