They are native to Asia but have a place in cuisines world round. The Russians love cucumbers in salads with dill, sour cream and yogurt. English teatime wouldn't be the same without cucumber sandwiches. Cucumber Raita accompanies every Indian meal. In Thailand, cucumbers are often paired with rice wine vinegar for a cool-tasting side dish to serve with spicy, grilled food.
In the United States, cucumbers are a favorite addition to summer salads and used to make the classic sandwich pal, pickles. See Ask the Chef for tips on how to make pickles from cucumbers.
Cool as a Cucumber
Cucumbers are 96 percent water, which helps make them so refreshing. Their temperature can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than the outside air.
medium-sized cucumber has just 45 calories and is a good source of fiber, folate and vitamin C. It's also packed with texture and crunch.
You have to be mindful of all that liquid. Dishes that star cucumbers can get watery if they sit too long. In The Minimalist Cooks at Home, Mark Bittman recommends sprinkling peeled, halved and seeded cucumbers with salt and then letting them drain in a colander for about 30 minutes. The result, he says, is firm, but still quite moist cukes.
What to Look For
Pick firm, dark green cucumbers that don't have any soft spots or look puffy or withered. Some varieties are more yellow or whitish in color or are ridged or warty looking.
Cucumbers will keep in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for about a week.
Growing Your Own
Cucumbers are easy to grow, you just need space (about nine square feet for per plant or a six by nine foot plot for six plants) or a garden fence for the plants spread and climb. The plants thrive in full sun and warm weather, but not dry heat.
Cucumbers are often waxed to extend their shelf life. Peel them if this is the case. Otherwise, leave the skin intact, it's where most of the vitamins linger and it aids digestion. If that's too much to chew on, peel the skin in ½ inch strips or run a fork down the skin (this has eye-appeal as well as stomach-appeal.)
Cucumbers are better without the seeds. Slice them in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to scrape the seeds out.
If your cucumber tastes bitter, rub the two halves together until they foam and you may recover some of the sweetness.
Cool with a Cucumber
Cucumbers pair well with chives, dill, mint, onions, vinegar, yogurt or (low-fat) sour cream. You also won't go awry if you serve them with salmon, mangoes, tomatoes or Feta cheese.
Celebrate cucumber with these FoodFit recipes:
Cucumber Dill Salad
Cucumber, Mango and Red Onion Salad
Minted Cucumber Dip
Poached Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce