Cool as a Cucumber

6.21.17 – This widely known idiom meaning calm and composed may be based on the fact that in hot weather, the insides of cucumbers remain cooler than the air. Feeling thirsty during the heat wave? Grab a cucumber to help hydrate yourself because they are, in fact, 95% water!

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Background:

Cucumbers are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes melons, squashes and gourds. Cucumbers have three main varieties: slicing, pickling, and “burpless.

  • Slicing Cucumbers are long, straight cucumbers that are the variety you are most likely to find in a supermarket. They have thin, non-bitter skin and small seeds.
  • Pickling Cucumbers are shorter, plumper, and have more textured, drier skin that soaks up the pickling brine.
  • “Burpless” Cucumbers are slicing cucumbers that have been bred to be less bitter and not release gas in the stomach. They are most commonly grown in greenhouses and are usually marketed as seedless.

History:

Today, cucumbers are one of the most widely cultivated plants in the world but their origin actually traces back 4,000 years to ancient India. Around 2,000 years ago, cucumbers started to spread through the Middle East and Europe but it is the Roman Empire that truly embraced this plant. Other than eating, Romans also used cucumbers medicinally to remedy over 40 different ailments including bad eyesight, scorpion bites, and improving fertility. Emperor Tiberius (14-16 AD) famously demanded to eat a cucumber every single day of the year. In the 16th century, Europeans brought cucumbers to North America and Native American tribes quickly capitalized on the plant’s potential by integrating it into their own farming. In 2017, cucumbers are grown across the world and they are even fairly easy to grow in your own yard in Southern California’s climate.

Fun Facts:

-According to Guinness’ World Records, the heaviest cucumber ever recorded was 23 lb. 7 oz. and was grown by David Thomas in the UK in September 2015.

-Cucumbers have eye-soothing abilities. Their high water content will help hydrate skin while the cool temperature will contract blood vessels, both of which will help reduce swelling. Put a cucumber in the refrigerator for few hours to cool it down. Once cooled, cut two thick slices. Find a relaxing spot to lay back and place the cucumber slices over your eyes for 10-15 minutes. 

-Cucumber can actually cure bad breath. The phytochemicals found in chemicals have the potential to kill the bacteria that cause your breath to smell.  Press a slice of cucumber on your mouth for 30 seconds to test it out!

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Recipes:

Cucumber Agua Fresca

 

Ingredients (serves 8):

-4 ½ cups coarsely chopped, deseeded and peeled cucumbers (about 4 medium)

-4 cups cold water

-2 cups ice cubes

-1 cup sugar

-2/3 cup fresh lime juice

-2 large pinches of salt

-Additional ice cubes

Preparation:

  1.     Combine cucumbers, water, 2 cup ice cubes, sugar,  lime juice, and salt in blender. Blend until sugar dissolves and mixture is smooth but slushy, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to pitcher. Serve with additional ice cubes

 

Greek Salad

Ingredients:

-1 hothouse or English Cucumber, sliced 1/2 inch thick and into quarters

-1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

-1/2 red onion, thinly sliced in half-rounds

-8oz feta cheese, sliced into ½-inch cubes (not crumbled)

-1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

Vinaigrette:

-2 garlic cloves, minced

-1 tsp. dried oregano

-1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

-1/4 cup red wide vinegar

-1 tsp. kosher salt

-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

-1/2 cup good olive oil

Preparation:

  1. Place the cucumbers, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.
  2. For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Still whisking, slowly add the olive oil to make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta and olives and toss lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

 

Quick Pickle

Ingredients

-4 small, firm cucumbers such as Kirby or Persian, peeled or scrubbed, sliced 1/8-inch thick

-1 tbsp. sugar

-1 ½ tsp. fine sea salt:

-1 tbsp. rice vinegar

Preparation:

  1. Slice cucumbers 1/8-inch thick using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Toss with the sugar and salt and leave in a colander to drain for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse well and drain.
  2. In a bowl, toss cucumbers with the vinegar, tasting and adding more as desired. Store in a container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Scrivani at the New York Times

Photo courtesy of Andrew Scrivani at the New York Times

Sources:

http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/heaviest-cucumber/

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/cucumber-agua-fresca-201229

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/greek-salad-recipe-1948517

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018012-quick-pickles

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cool-as-a-cucumber

http://www.grow-it-organically.com/cucumber-varieties.html#slicing

http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-cucumbers/

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