One of my closest friends in college was a girl called Sonia. She grew up in Cagliari, a place so different from my own that I couldn’t wait to join her for two weeks at her parents’ summer house in Solanas, a tiny seaside village on the Southern coast of Sardinia. Being young and without worries, we spent the days hanging out with her friends, tanning ourselves and cooling off in the water. There was one little shop in town – and it sold fresh produce including watermelon and what turned out to be the biggest delight when you’re in need of a pick-me-up on the beach: fresh cucumbers. Who knew that they can taste so refreshing in hot weather. With the summer well underway here in Northern California, twenty years on I still remember sitting with my toes in the sand and fresh cukes in my hand enjoying the hot summer breeze coming from the Mediterranean sea. What a summer. Come and cook with us!
Cucumbers have been around for a long time. They are a member of the same family as melons and are packed with flavanoids and lignans, which are a special type of polyphenols. Cucumbers are a very good source of vitamin K and also contain vitamin C, manganese, potassium and magnesium.
There are many different types of cucumbers, but I prefer the English or Lebenese ones. They are thin-skinned and have fewer seeds compared to the regular slicing ones which are thicker-skinned and have larger seeds. The main issue with the skin is that it often gets waxed. If it is an organic cucumber, the wax used on the skin must be free of chemical contaminants that are prohibited under organic regulations. This is why I eat the skin of organic cucumbers. Conventional cucumbers may be waxed with synthetic waxes which contain unwanted chemical compounds so if in doubt, you’re better off peeling it. When buying cucumbers, look for firm vegetables that are rounded at their edges and have a bright green color. Skip the ones that are yellow, wrinkled and have water-soaked areas. They aren’t fresh. Also, please keep in mind that cucumbers are on the most recent list of Dirty Dozen Plus by the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, so try to go organic!
So what to do with this summer bounty? My kids love snacking on freshly cut cucumbers sprinkled with a dash of salt. Cukes lend themselves perfectly to a fresh summer salad featuring thinly sliced cucumbers, a simple vinegar/olive oil dressing with a dash of paprika. Cucumbers also pair very well with plain yoghurt and you can whip this combination up into a delicious, refreshing side dish to many meals. Whether you call it tzatziki from Greece or raita from India, it is still one of the best ways to enjoy cucumbers. Almost as refreshing as those cucumbers we munched on the beach with Sonia. Come and cook with us!