Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Virtues of Cucumbers

I have always loved cucumbers and was delighted to learn that in addition to being refreshing and delicious (and low in calories), they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (like many fruits and vegetables). Moreover, they contain three powerful "lignans" that research indicates can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and several cancer types (breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate.) So I have vowed to eat a cucumber a day. For that reason I have collected a number of ways to consume this virtuous fruit (which, like tomatoes, we tend to think of as a vegetable.) But first some tips about cucumbers:
Cucumber tips
Color: Select cucumbers that are bright medium- to dark green, firm, and rounded at their edges.
Storing: Refrigerate cucumbers.
Skins and seeds: The skins and seeds of cucumbers are both richer in nutrients than the white flesh.
Wax: Cucumber skins are "waxed." Organic cucumbers are waxed naturally and are chemical free, so the skins may be consumed safely. For conventional cucumbers it is better to peel and discard the skins or wash the cucumbers under cool running water while gently scrubbing with a natural-bristle brush.
Removing seeds: The seeds can easily be removed from a cucumber if it is cut lengthwise and the tip of a spoon is used to gently scoop out the seeds; the seeds are the healthiest part of the cucumber, however, so it is better to leave them in.
Removing Bitterness: Cut off one tip of the cucumber. Rub the tip vigorously in a circular motion against the end of the cucumber. If it is bitter a white substance will froth up. Rinse and wipe off and continue rubbing until all has been release. Repeat at the other end. 

Scandinavian Cucumber Salad
These marinated cucumbers retain a summer crispness and serve as a light, fresh complement to meat or fish. The dish is sweet yet vinegary, an unusual combination.


1 cucumber (long English)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
¼ cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley


Wash and peel cucumber. Cut into paper-thin slices. Mix all of the rest of the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved. Place in a container with the cucumber slices. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. If you have any left over, the marinated cucumbers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

French Cucumber Salad


2 long English cucumbers
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¾ cup peanut oil
1 cup crème fraiche, or ½ cup heavy cream mixed with ½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice


Wash and peel cucumber. Cut into paper-thin slices. Make a vinaigrette in a bowl by whisking the vinegar and mustard and adding the oil one third at a time, whisking at each addition. In a separate bowl, mix the cream and slowly add half of the vinaigrette, whisking all the time. When well mixed add the cream mixture to the rest of the vinaigrette. Whisk and add the lemon juice. Place the sliced cucumbers in a serving dish with the cream sauce and mix so that all of the cucumbers slices are covered with the cream sauce.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad


Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                                                                     1 tablespoon red wine vinegar                                                                                                                                          3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil                                                                                                                                 ½ pound Vidalia Onion, chopped
1 pound cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters                                                                                                                         1 pound Kirby cucumbers, peeled and cubed                                                                                                                


In the bottom of a salad bowl, make a vinaigrette by adding salt, pepper and garlic to the vinegar and whisking in the oil one third at a time. Add the onions and mix. Add the cucumbers and tomatoes and mix gently, adding more salt and pepper. Sometimes I add cubed avocado.

Cold Cucumber Soup


2 large English cucumbers, halved and seeded, ½ cup finely diced, the rest coarsely chopped
1½ cups plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove
⅓ cup dill
¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
¼ cup olive oil
Fresh ground white pepper
½ red onion, finely chopped


In a blender, combine the chopped cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, dill, parsley, tarragon and the ¼ cup of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper, cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours, or overnight. Season again with salt and pepper just before serving. In the bowls, garnish with the finely diced cucumber, red onion and a drizzle additional olive oil.

Cucumber Gazpacho with Shrimp Relish

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, chopped
½ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
2 cups quartered grape tomatoes
⅓ cup fresh cilantro
2½ cups chopped English cucumber
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup whole-milk plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Dash of ground red pepper
1 large garlic clove, peeled 

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, cumin, and paprika. Add shrimp to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until done. Stir in tomatoes; remove from heat. Add cilantro. Place remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, cucumber, and remaining ingredients in a blender; process until smooth. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of four bowls; top with ¾ cup relish.

Cucumber–Cream Cheese Hors d'oeuvres


1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
½ cup mayonnaise
1 French baguette, cut into ½-inch-thick circles
1 cucumber, sliced
2 teaspoons of dill


In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, dressing mix and mayonnaise. Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mixture on a slice of bread, and top with a slice of cucumber. Sprinkle with dill. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

The Perfect English Cucumber Sandwich
The English traditionally serve these sandwiches at afternoon tea, but I prefer to accompany them with a glass of Rosé wine. Either way they are cool and lightweight enough not to spoil your appetite for dinner.

½ English cucumber, peeled
6 thin slices white bread
Unsalted butter, at room temperature
White pepper


Cut the cucumber into very thin slices and put in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle lightly with salt and leave for 20 minutes. This will draw out excess liquid.  Rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay out the bread and butter each slice generously. Arrange the cucumber on half the slices, overlapping each round, and sprinkle with ground white pepper. Top with the remaining slices. Pressing down firmly, cut the crusts off, and then cut into triangles. Serve immediately.

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