Cucumbers may not sound like the most exciting food topic but there are far more uses to this underappreciated veggie than just adding it to a salad or smoothie. Cucumbers are very versatile and super healthy for us. Summertime is the perfect time to enjoy the bounty of these veggies that can help keep us cool and hydrated in the most delicious ways. If you thought there wasn’t that much to think about cucumbers, let me fill you in on why you’ll want to stock up on these babies. Cucumbers may just end up being your new favorite vegetable.
1. Cucumbers 101
Cucumbers are part of the plant family, cucurbitaceae, which includes melons, squash, and pumpkins. We may know cucumbers best in their green state but they actually come in many different colors including yellow, orange, and white. Cucumbers also come in many different sizes, shapes, and textures.
Cucumber varieties come in slicing, pickling, and “burpless” types (which are seedless and on the sweeter side). There are also “specialty” heirloom and greenhouse varieties of cucumbers. The three most common types are Slicing, English, and Kirby cucumbers. Garden or Slicing Cucumbers are the ones we see most in supermarkets. They are long and straight with edible, dark green, non-bitter skins. These cucumbers have lots of big seeds inside.
English Cucumbers, also called hot house cucumbers, are long, green, and very thin. Some people prefer these cucumbers because they have very few seeds and don’t need to be peeled. Kirby cucumbers are my favorites. They are short and bumpy with colors ranging from yellow to dark green. They are crunchy, have a stronger flavor, and are perfect for pickling. Slicing cucumbers are generally longer, smoother, more uniform in color, and have a much tougher skin.
2. Selection and Storage
When choosing cucumbers, select those that are firm, dark green and have no wrinkles or soft spots. Avoid any cucumbers that are yellowing or can be bent. Bigger is not better as smaller cucumbers have fewer and smaller seeds. If you want to eat the skins, which contain vitamin A, buy unwaxed cucumbers.
Store cucumbers in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. They will last up to five days but are best eaten soon after picking. Cucumbers that are wrapped in plastic will last longer. Don’t store them near fruit as this will cause the cucumbers to go bad more quickly.
3. Health Benefits
Cucumbers contain lots of phytonutrients such as cucurbitacins, ligans, and flavonoids that provide us with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. They are also a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C, B vitamins, copper, potassium, and manganese. Cucumbers help reduce stress, fight heart disease, support digestive health, help maintain weight, help tired eyes, and even give you fresh breath. A cucumber is about 95 percent water and a half-cup of cucumbers has only eight calories! To learn more about the health benefits of cucumbers, read Green Food Power: Health Benefits of the “Cool” Cucumber.
4. Cooking with Cucumbers
Besides being good for you, cukes are extremely versatile. They can be added to smoothies, pickled, spiralized into veggie noodles, and even used in desserts! Cucumbers have a mild flavor that lets them be used in all types of cuisines. Cucumbers pair particularly well with seaweed, red onion, vinegar, tomato, all types of fresh herbs, garlic, sesame, and avocado.
You can use cucumbers in both sweet and savory recipes, as well as hot or cold dishes and drinks. Check out 10 Vegan Cucumber Recipes That Will Cool You Off This Summer and then let’s look at just some of the ways we can use cucumbers.
Cucumbers can easily be puréed and used for soups, both hot and cold. All you need is a blender and you can add whatever ingredients you like such as tomatoes, corn, and fresh herbs. This Chilled Cucumber Dill Soup and Creamy Carrot Bisque are two ways to enjoy a cucumber soup – one light and one a bit heartier. This Chilled Cucumber Soup With Pico De Gallo is light, smooth and velvety, seasoned artfully with cilantro, and given a bit of spice with pico de gallo.
Cucumbers add something cool and refreshing to salads. You can peel them and take out the seeds, if you wish, or just slice them as is. This Sichuan Sesame Shirataki Noodles and Cucumber Salad is a lovely light lunch or dinner option. They feature shirataki noodles, the chewy, clear noodles made from konjac yams. Sliced cucumber is added along with a dressing that doesn’t skimp on the savory umami flavor. This Cool Cucumber Salad is just what you need on a hot day. Cucumber slices are tossed in a dressing made with cashew butter, coconut milk, vinegar, garlic, and dill. Other cucumber salads to try include this Spicy Cucumber Avocado Onion Salad, Cucumber Quinoa Salad with Blueberries, Basil Cucumber Salad, and this Panzanella with Millet.
7. Appetizers and Small Bites
Cucumbers are great for small plates and that doesn’t just mean cucumber sandwiches – though, they are yummy too. Everyone will love these Cucumber Hummus Canapes. Bring these to your pot luck, picnics, and parties and your friends will show you just how much they love them. These Cucumber Semolina Dosas can be served with coconut chutney or agave for a sweet snack, or with extra green chilis for a savory and spicy snack. Of course, cucumbers are perfect in sushi and spring rolls. Try these Teriyaki Tofu Rolls with Avocado, Cucumber, Potato and Black Rice and these Red Cabbage and Jicama Spring Rolls.
These Avocado Pesto Cucumber Bruschetta Bites are a fun and easy take on the classic cucumber sandwiches served at afternoon tea. Forget about eating fish – this Veggie Ceviche with Dill features steamed cauliflower, refreshing cucumbers, fresh, bright grapefruit, and lime for a citrus kick and delicate, summery dill instead of the cilantro. Perfect for a summer party, these Sunflower Chive “Cheese” Cucumber Bites are seriously tasty and very festive looking.
8. Noodle Dishes
Get out your mandoline, vegetable peeler, or spiralizer because cucumbers can be turned into delicious noodles. This Lentil Coconut Curry with Pesto Cucumber Noodles features a hearty curry that sits on a bed of refreshing cucumber noodles. This vibrant bowl of Sweet and Sour Cucumber Carrot Noodles looks gorgeous and tastes even better. This Spicy Tomato Tahini Spiralized Salad has julienned zucchini, carrots, and cucumbers topped with a dollop of lentils and a zesty tomato tahini dressing.
Baked falafel sits atop this Cucumber Noodle Salad that has a mint-tahini dressing making every bite flavorful and tangy. This dish of Cucumber Noodles with Avocado Pepper Sauce is the perfect light and refreshing summer meal while cucumbers shine in this Sesame-Ginger Cucumber Noodles dish with fresh mint and edamame.
9. Pickled Cukes
Pickled foods were one of last year’s food trends and besides being delicious, they are really healthy. Read about it in Fermented and Pickled Foods are Healthy and Delicious —Try These and How to Add More Pickled Foods to Your Diet. Most of us think of sauerkraut as a cabbage dish but in the East, it’s often made from other pickled vegetables such as cucumber. This Ayurvedic Sauerkraut is made with naturally fermented cucumbers and warm, fragrant Indian spices.
I have pickled cucumbers every day with my breakfast. All I do is slice cucumbers thinly and toss them in apple cider vinegar with salt, pepper, and a little garlic. I keep them in a closed container in the fridge and take them out to top my flatbread along with hummus and tomatoes. These Super-Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles have cucumbers pickled with garlic, red chili flakes, mustard, dill, and coriander. Just put everything in a jar, throw it in the fridge and enjoy your homemade pickles the next day!
10. Other Ways to Eat Cucumbers
Cucumbers can be part of your healthy juices and smoothies like this Green Juice Detox. Put them in sandwiches like this Tomato Cucumber Sandwich on Onion Cornbread. Make a creamy pasta sauce like this Raw Zucchini Pasta with Avocado Cucumber Sauce. Add cucumbers to Tzatziki Sauce and to a refreshing Mango Avocado Salsa. Add cukes to a hot dish like this Korean-Style Spicy Tofu and Sesame Cucumbers.
Finally, don’t forget dessert. Cucumbers can be used in refreshing drinks, frozen treats, and even in baking. These Cucumber Chili Paletas, Mexican ice pops made from water, fruit, and sugar, are a mix of contrasting flavors — sweet, sour, refreshing, and spicy. Spiralized noodles are wonderful in salads, pasta dishes, and popsicles. What? That’s right, popsicles. These Lime, Mint and Cucumber Noodle Ice Popsicles are a unique, cool and refreshing summer treat. Cucumbers add healthy moisture to this Low-Fat Bundt Cake. Add cucumber slices to iced water, sangria, mojitos, and this Green Mojito Juice. You can even make sorbet with cucumbers like this Green Juice Sorbet.
See? I bet that’s a lot more than you ever thought you could do with cucumbers. Definitely put slices of cucumbers on your salad but this summer explore all the different ways you can use them in your dishes. You’ll be refreshed and feeling cool as a cucumber all summer.
Lead Image Source: Cucumber Hummus Canapes