Friday, July 17, 2015

Cucumber 101

The cucumber is a part of the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae. Members of this family include squash, pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon and other melons like cantaloupe and honeydew. The cucumber is actually a fruit which is used as a vegetable for culinary purposes. It grows as a creeping vine and there are several varieties of cucumbers. They are classified into three main categories. Slicing - which are grown to eat fresh; Pickling - any cucumber can be pickled but these varieties are bred specifically for pickling and are uniform in shape and size; and, Burpless - which are sweeter with a thinner skin. For more about specific varieties check out the offerings from Johnny Seeds. Cucumber seasonality in North America is usually July, August and September.

Cucumbers originated in Southern Asia with origins in India. Having been cultivated for thousands of years, the cucumber was probably introduced to Europe by either the Greeks or the Romans. There are records of cucumber production in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th and in North America by the mid 16th century. Cucumbers were mentioned in the Bible as one of the foods eaten by the Israelites in Egypt. The global top producers in 2010 included China as the largest producer followed by Iran, Turkey, Russia and the United States. 

Did you know that a cucumber is almost 90% water? And the saying “cool as a cucumber” came from the cucumbers ability to cool the blood and soothe facial swelling? For more fun facts about cucumbers check out these two sites here and here. And for more information about cucumbers go here.

To Store

You can store unwashed cucumbers in refrigerator and wash them when you are ready to use them. Recently some surprising information has surfaced about the best way to keep cucumbers fresh. Check out this article from The Kitchn. Your cucumbers can also be stored at room temperature just like your tomatoes. According to the University of California at Davis, cucumbers will sustain “chilling injuries” if stored below 50F. These can include water soaked areas, pitting and rapid decomposition. If stored in the refrigerator, cucumbers should be eaten in one to three days. Cucumbers are also very susceptible to ethylene which degrades some produce faster so store them away from tomatoes, bananas and melons.

To Nourish

Cucumbers are high in Vitamin K, C and B1. They are also rich in Molybdenum, Pantothenic Acid, Potassium, Phosphorus, Copper and Manganese. Cucumbers are chock full of phytonutrients including Cucurbitacins, Lignans and Flavonoids which provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer prevention properties. To read more about the health benefits of cucumbers check out this site.

To Prepare

There is always discussion about whether or not to eat the seeds and the skin of the cucumber. Both are very rich in nutrient content and combined they have a much higher value then the flesh alone. Note that both conventionally grown and organically grown cucumbers may be waxed. The main difference being commercially grown cucumbers use a synthetic wax that may harbor unwanted chemicals while the organically grown cucumbers use a non-synthetic wax and the growers have strict guidelines that address the addition of unwanted chemicals. It is always recommend that you peel a commercially grown cucumber. If eating the seeds does not appeal to you, they are easy enough to remove by slicing the cucumber lengthwise and then scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

Cucumbers are primarily eaten raw and are often thought of as only a salad ingredient, but they can be much more. Cucumbers can be pickled and preserved, juiced, made into soup, salsas and sauces. They can also be baked, roasted, grilled, sautéed and a nice addition to a stir fry. Their mild and sweet flavor make them compatible with almost anything sweet or savory. They are wonderful with onions, peppers, tomatoes and summer herbs as well as with shellfish, fish, chicken, pork and lamb. Creamy dairy products like yogurt, cream cheese, feta and goat cheese give them richness and zing. For some great ideas for using cucumbers in a different role than just a member of the salad ensemble go here.

To Try

Cucumber Fresca
Pineapple, Cucumber and Jalapeño Juice
Kale, Cucumber and Apple Smoothie
Refreshing Basil-Cucumber Mojito
Cel-ray and Aquavit
Cucumber Granita
Grilled Cucumbers with Creamy Pickled Feta Dip
Stuffed Cucumber Kimchi
Smacked Cucumber Pickles
Slightly Sweet Dill Pickles
Kosher Dill Pickles
Japanese Style Pickled Cucumbers with Seaweed and Sesame
Cucumber Salsa
Traditional Indian Raita
Julia Child's Baked Cucumbers
Sautéed Cucumber with Dill
Spiced Cucumbers and Coconut Milk
Whipped Feta and Cucumbers
Cucumber Basil Peanut Salad
Tiger Salad
Cucumber Watermelon Salad
Tropical Cucumber Salad
Indian Cucumber and Yogurt Salad Raita
Cucumber and Baby Pea Salad
Wakame and Cucumber Salad
Crispy Thai Pork and Cucumber Salad
Cucumber Soup
Chilled Cucumber Soup with Soba Noodles
Cucumber Mint Tea Sandwiches
Cucumber and Avocado Summer Rolls
Vegan Humdinger Sandwich
Chicken Salad with Creme Fraiche and Rye
Cucumber and Carrot Vermicelli with Crispy Shallots
Spicy Stir Fried Cucumbers with Shredded Chicken
Spicy Curry Grilled Shrimp with Cucumber Salad
Poached Salmon with Cucumber Raita
Cucumber Lime Paletas

To Use

Create a perfect twist of lime, lemon or orange peel and carve and decorate vegetables for canapés and salads with this Rösle Channel Knife, stainless steel cutter. This superb tool cuts the zest while leaving behind the white pith. Also use this Channel Knife to carve the sides of a cucumber for decorative purposes.  (Sur La Table, $26)