COOL AS A CUCUMBER
“Just lie back, relax and breathe away the stresses of your day. I am going to place a few slices of nice, cool cucumber on your eyes to help the eye tissues relax.”
“There. Those puffy eyes will be gone in no time.”
“While we are waiting to let those juicy cucumbers do their work, allow me to tell you a little more about today’s ingredient; the cucumber.”
Cucumbers have a history dating back almost 10,000 years to Southern Asia. These vitamin C rich vegetables have a high water content so are a great addition to any diet. They contain potassium, magnesium, caffeic acid, silica and their skins are rich in fiber.
What does that mean as far as health benefits to you though? Caffeic acid and vitamin C are both helpful in soothing skin irritations. Silica has been shown to improve the complexion, as well as being an essential component of healthy connective tissues, such as ligaments, muscles, tendons and cartilage. The high water content in cucumbers is also the reason why it is so prized for home spa treatments. Their water retention properties aide in reducing puffiness to the eyes -no myth! There are also studies suggesting that cucumbers may even reduce high blood pressure.
GARDENING AND HOW TO GROW THEM
If you want to try your hand at growing your own cucumbers, there are a few things you should know. They need warm soil and are susceptible to frost, so do not plant them before the expected last frost date, or conversely too late when you might have to worry about frost before your crop is ready. Cucumbers have a shallow root system and require lots of water. That being said, they do not like to have wet feet, so don’t over-water them or they will be more prone to disease. They need good air flow, so you might consider using a trellis or even a tomato cage to keep the vines off the ground. That also helps to keep your cucumbers cleaner and encourages a more uniform size of fruit. One last point, is that cucumbers also need regular fertilizing.
HOW TO PICK A CUCUMBER
Once your crop begins to grow, be vigilant. Pick cucumbers every other day. In general, pick them when they are between 2-8 inches long. Whether they are on the vine or in the store, pick cucumber when they are uniformly green and firm. Avoid yellow cucumbers as they are over-ripe. If you are growing your own, remove them to encourage new cucumber to grow. Also watch for soft or black spots, as they are also signs of an undesirable or over-ripe specimen.
HOW TO STORE THEM
As cucumbers are high in water content, it is best to store them in the fridge to keep them firm. If left on the counter, they will wilt quickly. Once cut into, wrap them tightly in plastic and use within a few days.
Due to the cooling properties of cucumbers, they make a great addition to any summer meal. They are delightful in salads, make a yummy addition to dips (like tzatziki), can be turned into soup (cool gazpacho) or simply sliced and eaten raw. While best eaten in season, they can be found in the grocery store throughout the year, for year-round enjoyment.
VIDEO OF COOKING LESSONS WITH CHEF JASON KIEFFER:
1/4 cup (50 mL) diced red onion
2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped fresh coriander
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) vinegar
1/2 tsp (2 mL) sesame oil
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1 pinch hot pepper flakes
2-1/2 cups (625 mL) diced English cucumber, (about 1 cucumber)
In bowl, mix together onion, coriander, sugar, vinegar, oil, salt and hot pepper flakes; stir in cucumber. Its as easy as that. Now Enjoy!
1/2 seedless cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced (about 32 slices)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup coarsely-chopped watercress leaves
16 slices fresh white bread
Salt to taste
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
Place cucumber slices between layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture.
In a small bowl, combine butter and watercress; spread on one side of each slice of bread.
Lay cucumber slices onto the buttered side of eight (8) slices of bread. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt. Cover each with 1 tablespoon alfalfa sprouts and top with the remaining slices of bread, buttered side down.
Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a long, sharp knife after the sandwiches are filled. Cut the sandwiches in half diagonally and then cut in half again. If desired, decorative shapes can be made with cookie cutters. Serving Size: Eight tea sandwiches.