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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cucumbers

 

Cucumbers:


Next to the tomato, cabbage, and onions, cucumbers are the fourth most cultivated vegetable in the world.  Originally from the Indian subcontinent, cucumbers have spread throughout the world.  They have been cultivated for 3000 years.  China produced 60% of global output of cucumbers in 2005 followed at a distance by Iran, Turkey, Russia, and the United States. 

The cucumber is a creeping vine which bears a cylindrical fruit when ripe.  The cucumber belongs to the same botanical family as melons and squashes.  Having an enclosed seed and developing from a flower, botanically speaking cucumbers are classified as accessory fruits.  Much like tomatoes and squash they are perceived, prepared, and eaten as a vegetable.   The majority of people describe a mild almost watery flavor or a light melon taste.  Cucumbers are 90 - 95% water. 

My first memory of eating cucumbers was with my paternal grandmother.  One of the benefits of having the fruit and vegetable store was that they had a truck.  It was a box truck.  It had a cab and then a fully enclosed "box" in the back.  It was about the size of a medium U-haul.  My grandfather used it to transport fruits and vegetable from the market back to the store.  He sometimes used it to deliver orders.   On rare occasions he used it to move things.  This was such an occasion.  He was helping some cousins move furniture.  Grandma and me went along and we stayed in the cab while he loaded up.  Well, Grandma brought some cucumbers and was cutting them up and we were eating them.  So now the smell of cucumbers brings me back to the truck.. I loved that truck!  I would sit in it and eat lunch in the early days I worked at the store.  Then I would pretend to drive till lunch was over.  I never became a truck driver, but one of my sons did.

There are three types of cucumbers: Slicing cucumbers,  Pickling cucumbers and Burp-less cucumbers.  Slicing cucumbers are grown to be eaten fresh.  Slicers grown for North America area generally longer, smoother, more uniform in color and have much tougher skin.  Pickling cucumbers are pickled for flavor and longer shelf-life.   Picklers tend to be shorter,  thicker, and less regularly shaped, and have bumpy skin with tiny white or black dotted spines.  Burp-less cucumbers are sweeter and have thinner skin than other varieties.  They are also much longer than the others They are reputed to be easier to digest with a pleasant taste.

Fresh extracts from cucumbers are shown to contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Cucumbers contain unique polyphenols called "lignans" which have a strong history of research in connection with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and several cancers including breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate.   Cucumber juice contains a hormone needed by the pancreas to produce insulin and so is beneficial for diabetics.  Compounds called "sterols" in cucumbers may help to reduce cholesterol levels.  Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin B and so are a good "pick-me-up".  Cucumbers contain lots of potassium, magnesium, and fiber which work effectively in regulating blood pressure, both high and low.  Cucumbers are an excellent source of silica which is known to promote joint health by strengthening connective tissue.  Cucumber skin can be applied to irritations of the skin and for sunburn like aloe.  Slices of cucumber over the eyes help to reduce puffiness.  The silicon and sulfur in cucumbers can help to stimulate hair growth.  A slice of cucumber pressed to the roof of the mouth by the tongue for 30 seconds relieves bad breath. 

The states of Florida and California provide U.S. consumers with fresh cucumbers for most of the year (March through November).  Cucumbers from Mexico are commonly found in grocery store during December, January, and February. 

Choose cucumbers that are firm and rounded at their edges with a bright medium   to dark green color.  Avoid cucumbers that are yellow, puffy, have sunken water-soaked areas  or are wrinkled at the tips.  Thin skinned cucumbers generally have less seeds than those that are thick skinned.  Cucumbers can be very heat sensitive.  Prefer cucumbers that are in refrigerated cases.   Store cucumbers in the refrigerator for up to several days.  For maximum quality, though,  consume within one to two days. 

The skin and seeds of the cucumber are both richer in nutrients than the flesh.  Cucumbers, however,  are often waxed.  Organically grown cucumbers must be waxed with non-synthetic waxes free from all chemical contaminants.  Conventionally grown cucumbers may be waxed with synthetic waxes that contain unwanted contaminants.  You'll probably want to remove their skins.  If you want to remove the seeds, cut the cucumber lengthwise, and use the tip of a spoon to scrape out the seeds.

Cucumber slices are great to eat out of hand and in all types of salads. 

So...... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

 

 Simple but good:

Tzatziki Sauce:  traditional sauce for Greek gyro sandwich, but good on any grilled meat or as an appetizer with pieces of pita bread or pita chips.

1 cup  (8 oz.) Greek style yogurt
1 cucumber  peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until well combined.  Remove to a separate dish and cover.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.