If you are looking for some refreshing relief from the summer heat, following the clichéd phrase “cool as a cucumber”, quite literally, might just do the trick.
For most of us, it’s a refreshing vegetable that’s generally eaten raw. But while it is true that the cucumber can be up to 20 degrees Celsius cooler than its surrounding temperature, adding it to your summer diet also helps regulate your body’s inner temperature by keeping it hydrated. Cucumbers contain 95% water; the remainder is a power-pack of highly nutritious minerals and fibre.
Photographs by Moina Luther
The cucumber, known to have originated in India, is typically a common vegetable—easily grown and widely cultivated around the world. It is also rich in nutritional properties and surprisingly versatile in kitchen use.
It belongs to the squash family, which includes pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon and cantaloupe. And there are several varieties. The most popular ones are English, also known as gourmet cucumbers or seedless cucumbers; Persian, which is your regular variety; and pickling cucumbers, which are smaller in size, like gherkins or the French cornichons. Cucumbers are available in almost every country, and it is fascinating to see the variety of traditional and local recipes.
Sangeeta Soman, practitioner in nutrition and alternative medicine, Vivina Polyclinic, Mumbai, says: “Cucumber is one of the richest sources of the mineral silica. Silica is essential for the proper functioning of nerve cells and tissues, making it highly beneficial in beauty aids for the skin, hair and nails. It also strengthens the bones and is beneficial in all healing processes. Its seeds are rich in potassium and magnesium, which help lower blood pressure and hypertension.”
The numerous benefits of silica are not the cucumber’s only trump card. According to Vishakha Shivdasani, Mumbai-based medical doctor, dietitian and Mint columnist: “Cucumbers are an excellent diet choice as they are rich in vitamin K. Vitamin K plays a role in the protein function required for bone health and is an exceptional anti-inflammatory. Cucumbers are also rich in vitamin A, manganese, folic acid and iron, as well as vitamin C, making it a multi-nutritional source of food.”
According to Dr Soman, “Cucumber seeds are rich in potassium and hence beneficial in the treatment of UTI (urinary tract infection) and gallstones.”
Some cucumbers can be bitter, and while most people, as a ritual, still cut the ends off the cucumber and rub them together to draw out the bitter juices, this is just an old wives’ tale. What does work is soaking sliced cucumber in salt water and draining it before adding it to your food. This works on the principle of osmosis.
The seeds have a unique taste that gives the cucumber its distinct yet subtle flavour. And the skin, though it should be washed thoroughly, is actually very high in nutrients and fibre.
Here are four easy summer recipes.
Agua de Pepino is a typical Mexican lemonade drink made with cucumber juice. The combination of cucumber and lemon works extremely well, and feels like a chilling splash of ice water. It will keep you feeling energized and hydrated through the scorching heat.
Time: 15 minutes
1 cucumber (of any variety), peeled and cut into chunks
1 lemon grass sprig
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 litre water
Lots of ice
Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix well. Strain the pulp. Put the ice in a glass, pour the juice and serve chilled.
The Japanese use cucumber in a lot of dishes—from sushi rolls to pickles and salads. Kiyuri Namasu is a Japanese cucumber salad that has a robust pickled kick to it. This is a milder version that works well as a cooling side course. It goes well with Asian food or spicy dishes.
Time: 10 minutes for preparation and 30 minutes for chilling
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 orange, peeled and skinned
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp black sesame (‘til’) seeds, toasted
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
Slice the cucumbers with a cheese slicer and place in a bowl with the orange segments. Mix the vinegar, sugar, salt, sesame seeds and dill thoroughly and add this dressing to the cucumber and orange mixture. Leave to chill for half an hour in the refrigerator before serving.
The concept of cold soup is still unfamiliar to some. A popular Turkish gazpacho soup is Cacik. Its ingredients are very similar to the delicious Greek yogurt dip called tzatziki. This soup can be had at any time of the day as a nourishing snack.
Time: 15 minutes
1 cup yogurt
4 cloves garlic, ground
1 tsp dried mint powder
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Blend all the ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour. Served chilled.
Cucumber and fish gratin
Gratin is a French culinary technique of baking that can be applied to all kinds of dishes. It entails topping the surface of a dish with breadcrumbs and/or cheese and browning it to a crusty texture. Baking cucumber changes its texture and flavour quite drastically.
Time: 25 minutes for preparation and 30 minutes for cooking
2 cucumbers, sliced
250g mozzarella cheese, sliced
2 tbsp mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp chives, chopped
1 tbsp lemon zest, grated
1 tbsp mustard seeds
3 tbsp butter, melted
300g basa (or any boneless fish of your choice)
Make a dressing of the melted butter, lemon zest, chives, mustard, salt and pepper by beating the ingredients together. Marinate the fish and cucumber in this dressing for 15 minutes. Gently crumble in the grated mozzarella into the breadcrumbs with the tips of your fingers and leave aside. Take a shallow baking dish and butter the base well. Put a layer of cucumber at the base, then add a layer of fish, make the next layer with mozzarella, a fourth layer with the remaining cucumber, and finally top it up with the breadcrumb mixture.
Place in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes. Leave on cooling rack for 5 minutes before serving. This goes well with bread as the cucumber releases a good amount of water.
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