When I go out on hot summer days, I often trade my bottle of water for a cool cucumber–or two, or three. The clean flavor and crunch make cucumbers much more satisfying and thirst quenching, not to mention more nutritious, than plain old water–or even newfangled Vitaminwater. Check out these fun facts about cucumbers and our Asian Cucumber Salad recipe!
A Tall, Cold…Cucumber?
Because cucumbers are mostly water, they are refreshing and cooling. Once thought to be largely devoid of nutrients, food scientists have found that cucumbers do in fact have significant amounts of nutrients, especially in their skins. For starters, they contain vitamins C and A, folic acid, iron, potassium, manganese, and silica. Silica works synergistically with calcium and vitamin D to increase collagen production, promoting healthy skin and connective tissue–so go ahead and put those cucumber slices on your eyes like they did in the old movies!
Healthy Inside and Out
In addition, cucumbers are a good source of molybdenum–which is not only fun to say, but is vital for many brain functions, including memory. Finally, cucumbers are one of the very few vegetables that contain the amino acid tryptophan, which can convert into the neurotransmitter serotonin, and may function as a natural mood-lifter and appetite-curb.
Cucumber skin contains large amounts of caffeic acid, an antioxidant that mops up free radicals and prevents cell damage. The skin also contains high amounts of fiber, potassium, magnesium and silica.
Quick and Easy to Prepare
Local farmers often grow heirloom cucumbers, bred for flavor, not for travelling long distances or staying on store shelves for weeks. These varieties have thin skins, and are super-easy to prepare. Try slicing them for sandwiches or salads, or eating them on their own, like an apple or carrot. Here are a few quick serving ideas:
- Make a cold gazpacho soup by putting cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers (sweet and/or hot) and onions in a food processor. Then add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add diced cucumber to tuna fish or chicken salad
- Slice thinly, and make a cucumber salad with a few thin slices of sweet onion, a few splashes of rice vinegar, a few drops of sesame oil, and a little salt and pepper
And, yes, water makes up 90 percent of a cucumber’s weight, which makes them low in calories and good for making sure you’re hydrated. So instead of toting a bottle of water this summer, carry a crunchy cucumber from your local farmer!
Asian Cucumber Salad
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 pound cucumbers
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon instant Dashi granules (optional; available in many grocery stores)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil, or to taste
- In a dry heavy skillet, toast sesame seeds over moderate heat, shaking skillet, until golden. Let cool.
- Cut cucumbers into very thin slices. Sprinkle with salt and drain in a colander 10 minutes.
- In a bowl stir together vinegar and dashi granules until granules are dissolved. Add cucumber and oil, tossing to coat.
- Serve at room temperature or chilled, sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Seasonal Cook’s Notes: You can use any variety of cucumber for this salad, but the long, thin Japanese or English cucumbers have thin skins, and fewer seeds.
The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers’ market or CSA nearest you, visit www.localharvest.org.
Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.