Preceded only by tomatoes, cabbage, and onions, the cucumber is the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable in the world… although botanically cucumbers *are* considered a fruit. Native to India, cucumbers belong to the same family as melons and squashes, hence their characteristic mild, faintly melon taste. They are eaten on nearly every continent and are incorporated into cuisines worldwide – from classic tea sandwiches to spicy curries.
While the phrase “cool as a cucumber” has been around since the late 16th century, these delicious fruit-veggies are enjoying a renaissance given their high fibre and phytochemical content and low calories. They are so much more than simply fodder for pickles!
Traditionally used as a diuretic in Chinese medicine, cucumbers have long been touted for their skin-related benefits including treatment of sunburns and rashes, as well as wrinkles! The common puffy eye cure of cucumber-slices-on-the-eyes comes from their high vitamin C and caffeic acid content, both of which reduce swelling. Very low in calories (½ cup serving = 10 calories), cucumbers are over 95% water but also provide a rich source of antioxidants like cucurbitacins, lignans and flavonoids.
When buying cucumbers, look for firm, bright green varieties without wrinkles or shrivelled ends. Avoid any cucumbers with soft, discoloured or slimy spots, which indicate fungi or bacterial rot. They can be refrigerated for up to one week, preferably sealed or wrapped in plastic. If you do not use the entire cucumber, we suggest tightly wrapping the remainder so that it does not dry out; try to use within 1 – 2 days.
Although cucumbers are generally low in pesticides, they are usually waxed to reduce moisture loss and for cosmetic reasons (shiny = pretty!). While the wax is considered edible, conventionally grown cucumbers (read: not organic) are often waxed with synthetic compounds. Yuck! Look for unwaxed varieties like hothouse shrinked-wrapped cukes at the grocery store or fresh ones from the farmer’s markets. You can take a scrub brush to the outside of your cucumber to remove the wax too. We don’t suggest peeling your cukes, because that’s where all the good stuff is!
Our favourite way to bypass the wax issue? Grow your own cucumbers and try some of our tips below for tasty cucumbers-beyond-the-dill-pickle:
- stir-fried: while most of us only eat cucumber raw, it is amazing stir-fried with other veggies. We really like our stir-fried cucumber in a light peanut or green curry sauce!
- fresh salad: toss diced cucumbers and halved snap peas in a red wine vinaigrette; sprinkle with fresh mint from the garden. For something a little different, this cucumber-blueberry salad with mint from Food ReFashionista looks yummy.
- agua de pepino: blenderize chopped cucumbers and lime juice with water, sweeten with a little honey and you have cucumber-ade!
- refreshing dip: raita and tzatziki are both cucumber and yogurt-based – great condiments to serve with spicy foods.
- tropical salsa: combine cucumber, avocado and mango with lime juice and chilies for a great salsa on grilled chicken and fish.
- cool and crisp side: toss thinly shaved cucumber with rice vinegar, sesame oil and sesame seeds.
Cucumber and Beet Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing
Creamy without all the fat of traditional mayonnaise and sour cream-based dressings, the addition of spicy horseradish and dill is a natural with both roasted beets and fresh cucumber.
- 3 – 4 beets
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 3 tbsp prepared white horseradish
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp green onion, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
- 1 long English cucumber, sliced and seeded
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Trim green tops from beets; cut off stems and discard (wash and reserve greens, if usable). Gently scrub beets and set aside.
- Toss beets with 1 tbsp olive oil in roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt. Cover pan with foil. Bake until beets are tender, about 50 minutes. Let beets stand covered at room temperature 20 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
- Whisk yogurt, horseradish, lemon juice, lemon zest, green onion and dill in large bowl.
- Add beets and cucumber, and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature at least 20 minutes.
- Serve marinated beets and cucumber on top of shredded beet greens.