I remember having dinner at my sister’s house years ago when my oldest niece Emily, who was then about 10, watched her mother slice cucumbers for the salad. She picked one up and declared, “I know what these are! These are for your eyes!”
Emily was right; cucumbers are one of those special foods that have more uses than just culinary. An internet search turns up some pretty unusual uses for cucumbers, everything from removing crayon drawings on walls to firming up cellulite on skin! I have no idea about the validity of many of these claims, but I do know that a summer without cold cucumbers is like a winter without hot soup.
Called Cucumis Sativus by science, the cucumber is a cousin to zucchini, watermelon, pumpkin and other squash. We love to eat them fresh or pickled. Fresh cucumbers are generally known as “slicing cucumbers” while the smaller, cultivated varieties, such as gherkins, are perfect for pickling. All varieties are cylindrical in appearance; their colors can range from whitish-green to dark green. Some have smooth skins while others are bumpy and ridged. Inside, a cucumber has watery, pale, whitish-green flesh. Some varieties have seeds and others are seedless. The flesh is crunchy, the seeds are edible, and the uses are numerous. Although the longer, slicing cucumbers are available year-round, all cucumbers are best enjoyed in season, added to summertime menus.
Along with salads, discover new cucumber culinary creations from appetizers to soups to main dishes, side dishes and even desserts. Here’s a start:
- Peel and puree cucumbers with salad dressing.
- Slice and layer cucumbers in the bottom of a glass and pour in still or sparkling water for a refreshing drink.
- Chop and add to salsa like we did in this recipe for Peach and Cucumber Salsa.
- Add them to chopped vegetable salads. You will love this Jicama Salad with Cucumber and Lime and this Cucumber Radish and Seaweed Salad.
- Chop cucumbers and garnish hot or cold soups.
- Chop cucumbers and toss with whole grains, veggies and herbs such as chives and parsley.
- Make yourself a wrap with cucumbers. Add sliced meats, cheeses, hummus or simply veggies. You’ll really appreciate this Turkey and Cucumber Wrap with Ranch Dressing.
- Serving dinner outside? Start with this Pineapple Cucumber Gazpacho.
- Make cucumber coolers like we did with this recipe for Cherry-Cucumber Coolers.
- Add to dips and spreads. Here’s a healthy recipe for Creamy Cucumber Dip.
- Cut cucumber “sticks” for dipping into hummus or other favorite dips.
- Chop cucumbers and toss with yogurt, lemon juice and spices such as cumin, coriander and a bit of sea salt and pepper. Here’s a recipe for Spicy Lamb Burgers with Cucumber Raita.
- Slice and layer on a hamburger — turkey, tofu burger and portobello mushroom burgers are perfect too. Try our recipe for Turkey Burgers with Cucumber-Pineapple Relish.
- Make cucumber sandwiches, like these Cucumber Sandwiches with Strawberries and Watercress.
- Have a summer party and serve these Seafood Cucumber Stacks with Lemon Cream and Chives for a cooling, fun appetizer.
- Make cucumber sorbet for a refreshing snack or dessert.
- Take 2 slices of cold cucumber. Lay down. Close your eyes and lay one cucumber over each tired, sore, dry eye. Relax! (Thanks, Emily.)
Remember, when purchasing cucumbers, they should be firm. No soft spots, no browning and nothing yellow or limp. The thinner the cucumber, the less seeds it is likely to have. If your cucumber has a waxy coating, wash it off or peel it. Store all cucumbers in the fridge; they will keep for several days, but it is always advisable to use fresh veggies and fruits, including cucumbers, as soon as possible after purchase.
How do you stay as cool as a cucumber? Got an idea or a favorite recipe? Let me know!