Cool as a Cucumber
Source: Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers
From traditional English cucumber tea sandwiches to the Indian condiment raita to the Finnish salad kurkkusalaatti and then onto Japanese sushi, the cucumber has found a culinary home in most kitchens around the world.
The cucumber is believed to be native to India, and evidence indicates that it has been cultivated in Western Asia for 3,000 years. From India it spread to Greece and Italy, where the Romans were especially fond of the cucumber crop. As with many foods, the cucumber was introduced to the United States by Spanish explorers in the mid-16th century.
Cucumbers have long been considered a great food to eat when trying to lose weight. They are low in calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Cucumbers are 96 percent water by weight, which makes them a refreshing snack on a hot summer day. While cucumbers are not one of nature’s “Super Foods” in terms of nutrition, they do add a crisp, healthy snap to salads and sandwiches and contain some vitamin A, C, and K, and a few other trace minerals.
If you have wondered where they saying "cool as a cucumber" originated, it’s not just a catchy phrase. The inner temperature of a cucumber can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the outside air. No wonder these are such a summertime favorite!
Most cucumbers are long and skinny; these are best suited for slicing and are available year round. Cucumbers that are cultivated to make pickles are oftentimes much smaller. Gherkins are one variety of cucumbers cultivated for this purpose and are mostly available May through August.
Age to introduce: 2–3 years old (cucumbers are considered a choking hazard for babies and toddlers.)
At the market: Choose firm cucumbers without shrivels or soft spots. With the exception of lemon cucumbers, which are a light yellow-green and the Armenian cucumber, which is ivory, they should have a solid green color without signs of yellowing or puffiness.
Most conventionally grown cucumbers are waxed to protect them from bruising and releasing water. The wax is edible, but many people prefer to peel cucumbers to avoid eating the wax. Peeling cucumbers reduces the nutrition content and makes them look bland. To avoid waxed cucumbers, choose organically grown ones.
Storage: Store unwashed waxed cucumbers in the refrigerator crisper for up to one week. Unwaxed cucumbers should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, stored in the refrigerator crisper for 2–3 days. Don't freeze cucumbers as they will get mushy.
Preparation: Many cooks remove the tips, peels, and seeds, which may be tough and bitter in some varieties. To seed a cucumber, cut it lengthwise and scrape the seeds out with a spoon or knife. Some recipes call for cucumbers to be soaked in salt water. This step removes some of the naturally high water content, which can dilute the flavor of the dish.
Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby. Visit them at www.freshbaby.com and subscribe to their Fresh Ideas newsletter. Fresh Baby Baby Food Kits and other products are available at many fine specialty stores and national chains including Target, Wild Oats, and Whole Foods Markets.