From traditional English cucumber tea sandwiches, to the Indian condiment raita to the Finnish salad kurkkusalaatti, and 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% 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.)
eCreamy Cukes for Kids
Our Grandmother made this delicious creamy cucumber salad, and it was a staple on her dinner table all summer long. This salad is a great childhood memory of times spent with grandma, and we are delighted to share it with you. We hope your children love it.
- 2 medium cucumbers, peeled
- ½ cup sour cream
- 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. fresh dill, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Cut cucumbers in half longwise. With a small spoon, scrape out seeds and slice cucumbers about 1/4 inch thick slices. In medium size bowl, add sour cream, vinegar, sugar and fresh dill and mix together with a spoon until smooth. Add the cucumbers and toss gently to coat the cucumbers with dressing. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Variation: Add 1/2 cup of mango, watermelon or cantaloupe chunks to this recipe.
Cucumbers For The Family
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–they 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.
Here are some quick ideas to add cucumbers into your family meals:
Add cucumber slices to:
- Green salads and veggie platters
Add chopped, diced cucumbers to:
- Tuna, chicken, egg, or shrimp salad
Refreshing Drinks: Add summer freshness to drinks with a cucumber slice. This tastes great with water and lemonade. Adults can also try a cucumber slice in cold sake or bloody mary’s.
Cucumber Cups: These nifty little cups are perfect for serving appetizer-sized portions of salads and creamy cheeses. Peel cucumber, and add a decorative touch by running the tines of a fork down the entire length of the cucumber on all sides to “stripe” it. Cut the cucumbers into ½ – ¾ inch rounds. With a melon baller scoop out the middle without going all the way through, so you have a small cucumber dish. Fill the cups with some of the fillings listed below, place on a serving tray, and garnish with fresh chopped herbs, such as dill, tarragon, or chives. Filling choices include:
- Ham salad
- Seafood or shrimp salad
- Tuna salad
- Flavored cream cheese such as chive, smoked salmon, or veggie
- Port wine cheddar cheese spread
- Mixture of ½ blue and ½ cream cheese
Cucumber Sandwiches: The traditional English cucumber tea-sandwiches consist of sliced cucumber on white bread spread with butter, with the crusts cut off. Here is a variation on this traditional sandwich, you’ll need:
- Thinly sliced cucumber rounds
- Thin slices of smoked salmon or deli turkey
- Whipped cream cheese
- Pumpernickel bread
- Fresh chopped chives
For each sandwich: Spread 2 slices of bread with cream cheese. Put 1 layer of cucumber a top the cream cheese and add one thin layer of smoked salmon or turkey, and top with the second slice of bread. Press lightly with palm of hand. Cut all crusts off with a sharp knife. Cut sandwiches in half diagonally.