Quite a Cumber

While cucumbers are not as famous in the health world as some of their fellow vegetables, it would be wrong to underestimate their health benefits. In addition, cucumbers are now known to contain phytonutrients that lower chronic inflammation and even risk of cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. In several recent studies, cucumber have been referred to as an “anti-diabetic” food, showing lower risk of type 2 diabetes in study participants who included cucumbers in their meal plans. Because cucumbers are composed of about 96% water, they are great for promoting hydration and can help you meet your daily fluid needs.

While there are hundreds of different varieties, all can be divided into two basic types: slicing and pickling. Slicing cucumbers include all varieties that are eaten fresh. These varieties are usually large in size and thick-skinned. Their size makes them easier for slicing, and their thick skin makes them easier to transport without damage.

Pickling cucumbers include all varieties that are cultivated not for consumption in fresh form, but for processing into pickles. While pickling cucumbers can always be eaten fresh, their smaller size and thinner skins make them easier to ferment and preserve.

Cucumber plants are hardy and naturally thrive in all climates and have been widely cultivated worldwide. They are believed to have originated in Asia, perhaps in parts of China, southern India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. At present, China is by far the world’s largest producer of cucumbers, with over 54 million tons of total production.

Approximately 50,000 acres of cucumbers grown for fresh consumption and 100,000 acres of cucumbers grown for pickling are planted in the U.S. each year. Demand for cucumbers from U.S. consumers means that a greater amount of this much-loved vegetable gets imported into the U.S. — primarily from Mexico — than gets produced domestically.

Just like tomatoes, pumpkins and avocados, cukes count as vegetables in terms of supermarket organization, but not in the world of science, where they are considered fruits because they contain seeds. They are more closely related to watermelon than carrots or lettuce. The truth is in the seeds.

Mexican Cucumber Salad

Bright flavor and a bit of heat give this salad a leg up on other cucumber salads!

  • 2 medium cucumbers — peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 cups corn kernels, fresh or canned, drained
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, checked and minced*
  • 2 teaspoons fresh cilantro, checked and minced*
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) package tortilla chips

*use 2 cubes frozen if you prefer

In a medium bowl, stir together the cucumbers, tomatoes, green pepper, corn, jalapeño pepper, onion, garlic, lime juice, parsley, cilantro, dill and salt. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips.


Chilled Cucumber Soup with Sriracha Cream

Cool cucumbers get a wake-up with a bit of spicy topping

  • 3 English cucumbers, peeled and cut in chunks
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

For the sriracha cream:

  • 1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (8-oz) container plain yogurt
  • 2 finely-chopped scallions
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sriracha

Garnish

  • finely-chopped scallion greens

Purée the cucumbers with water, vinegar and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a blender or food processor until smooth. Chill in the fridge while preparing the cream.

Mash together avocado, lemon juice and remaining teaspoon salt until smooth. Whisk in yogurt, sriracha and scallions.

Divide soup among 4 bowls. Serve topped with avocado cream and a sprinkle of chopped scallions.


Many ingredients are prone to infestation. Please consult a local Rav for specific guidelines on how to avoid transgressions related to insects.


Readers may submit questions to the Culinary Connoisseur, c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230 or via e-mail to peppermill@hamodia.com. This weekly column has been brought to you by The Peppermill, the world’s first kosher kitchenware store, located at 5015 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. (718) 871-4022. You can also read a selection of previous columns in their comprehensive cookbook, The Culinary Connoisseur, available now at your local Judaica and kitchenware stores. Jam-packed with delicious recipes, insightful food information and helpful cooking tips, this book is certain to become your constant companion in the kitchen.