I remember the summers in Chennai as  hot, humid, ever thirsty and sticky. Street vendors would bustle in with juicy mangoes, coconut water, sugarcane juice and my favorite crunchy kakdis or cucumbers. The kakdiwala would stack his small cart with these green cucumbers and sprinkle water on them periodically to keep them fresh. He had an army knife tucked in the side of the cart, which he pulled out to slice the cucumbers lengthwise. He would then sprinkle some masala powder and salt and give it to us. I loved cucumbers then and I still love them now, thanks to my kakdiwala.

Cucumber is an undervalued, less appreciated  fruit, but according to Ayurveda the benefits of adding it to our daily diet is multifold. This versatile crunchy fruit of the gourd family has a mild sweet flavor. You will find dishes from Asia, Egypt, Lebanon, Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey to the Americas incorporating cucumbers. Here in the United States we have three varieties that are widely used. They are called slicing, pickling and burpless cucumbers.

Benefits
• A cucumber contains 95% water and helps in hydrating the body and thereby eliminates toxins.

• The B vitamins in cucumbers make it an  instant energy booster. Therefore a cucumber is a great substitute for soda or coffee without the bad sugar.

• Cucumbers eliminates hangovers and headaches as they contain a good amount of electrolytes to replenish the body.

• It is a great digestive. The burpless cucumbers are especially known to help with digestion.

• According to the World Health Organiza  tion, the lignans (phytoestrogens) in cucumbers are anti-carcinogenic and are shown to reduce the risk of estrogen-related cancers.

• The beta carotene and Vitamin C in cucumbers make them anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory.

• We all know that cucumbers tighten the collagen in our skin and help reduce wrinkles and cellulite. But did you know that the natural silica and sulphur in cucumbers helps in hair growth?

• This silica is also essential in reducing joint pain especially in arthritic patients.

• The phytochemicals in cucumbers help in eliminating bad breath.

• The potassium in cucumbers helps in regulating blood pressure.

Apart from all these benefits the ancient Romans were known to use cucumbers in the cure for scorpion bites and  bad eyesight. They also used cucumbers to get rid of mice.

Cucumbers are also defoggers (bathroom mirrors)  and used in keeping slugs and bugs away from vegetable gardens.

Make sure to pick fresh green cucumbers that are unbruised. Slice the ends and taste it first. If its bitter at the ends, it is overripe and will be bitter throughout the fruit. Here are some recipes that will enhance your summer menus.

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the SF Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at rocketbites.com.


Spicy Green Gazpacho

Ingredients
3 English cucumbers, peeled, 98chopped
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 stalks of green onion, only white bulb chopped and used
1 cup fresh pineapple chunks with juice
1 jalapeno chili, chopped
½  cup of packed cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup of water
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

For the Garnish
lemon zest (chiffonade)
sliced green onions
Method
Mix all the ingredients except the extra virgin olive oil. Puree the ingredients into a chunky soup with water. Adjust the seasonings. Refrigerate the soup for about 2 hours and serve chilled with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest and green onions.

Korean Cucumber Kimchi

This is a spicy pickled cucumber  that is eaten with rice in Korea. The Gochugaru chili powder used can be purchased at any Asian food market. Cayenne pepper can be substituted.

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Ingredients
3 pickling cucumbers cut crosswise 1” long pieces
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
3 green onions chopped fine
1 tablespoon Korean chili powder
(Go chugaru)
2-3 cloves garlic minced
½ teaspoon fresh ginger minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame seed

Method
Sprinkle the coarse sea salt on the cut cucumbers and set it aside for an hour.
Mix the rest of the ingredients including the green onions, gochugaru chili powder, ginger, garlic, sugar, vinegar and sesame seeds together. Drain the liquid from  the salted cucumbers
mix the salted cucumbers with the spice mixture, making sure that all the cucumber pieces are well coated with the spice mix.  Place it in a glass bowl, cover it and let it
ferment overnight. It can be then refrigerated and used after 2-3 days.

Maharashtrian Cucumber
Peanut Salad (Khamang Kakdi)

Ingredients
2 English cucumbers peeled and
chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
¼ cup of roasted peanuts chopped fine
2 tablespoons fresh grated coconut
1 Thai green chili chopped fine
¼ cup fresh cilantro chopped fine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste

For the Garnish
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 curry leaves
a pinch asafoetida

Method
Place the chopped cucumber pieces in a bowl and sprinkle salt over it and set it aside for 30 minutes.  Drain the liquid  out and squeeze out excess liquid from the cucumbers.
Mix them with the roasted chopped peanuts, green chili, freshly grated coconut, chopped cilantro, lemon juice and sugar. Mix well.

Heat a small pan with oil, add the mustard seeds and once they splutter, add cumin seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. Pour this seasoning into the cucumber peanut mixture and mix well. Serve at room temperature as a side side or salad.

Cucumber Margarita

This refreshing blender drink was invented by the bartenders at Straits restaurant.

Ingredients
2½ ounces Tequila
½ ounce triple sec
¼ ounce simple syrup
2 ounces sweet and sour
1 four-inch cucumber, peel on, cut in three pieces, plus two thinly sliced rounds for garnish
Salt(optional)

Method
Put Tequila, triple sec, simple syrup, and sweet and sour in blender. Add the cucumber pieces. Fill a 16-ounce glass with ice and pour it into the blender as well. Blend until incorporated. Pour into glass, rimmed with salt if desired, and garnish with cucumber rounds.

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