From the way the characters in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest went on and on about cucumber sandwiches, I was expecting something stunningly delicious when I tasted my first one, at The Savoy hotel in London. Not surprisingly, it was disappointing - it didn't taste bad, but it's not anything I ever need to eat again. Perhaps it was that my palate couldn't appreciate something so extremely subtle, but more likely, it was the cucumber. The so-called 'English cucumber' - large, seedy and watery - is not the most flavourful. But then again, all cucumbers have a very mild flavour. Like many other fruits and vegetables, cucumbers taste better when small and young - they're less seedy and the texture is crispier. Long, thin cucumbers tend to have fewer seeds than the fatter specimens. When choosing them at the market, cucumbers should be firm and unbruised, with skin that's a little shiny (if they are too glossy, the skin has probably been waxed). Occasionally, cucumbers are bitter. Before using a cucumber, trim off the ends and taste them; if it has a bitter flavour, discard the entire vegetable. If you ask for 'a pickle' at a restaurant in the United States, you'll almost certainly get one made from cucumber. Like many other types of pickles, cucumber ones are made by soaking the vegetable in an acidic salt-water solution, usually flavoured with garlic and fresh or dried herbs and spices. Through osmosis, the water in the cucumber is drawn out and replaced with the salt-water brine, which helps to preserve the vegetable. Cucumbers make a good, crisp addition to salads, but they have more flavour when cooked. Peel the cucumber, cut it in half, lengthwise, and scoop out and discard the seeds. Cut into 1cm-thick pieces. Heat oil in a wok, add a halved garlic clove and a couple of thin slices of ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the cucumber pieces and some thin strips of red bell pepper (for colour). Sprinkle with salt, mix well, then put the lid on the wok, lower the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. When the cucumber is crisp-tender, stir in a little sesame oil, then serve.