Take Cucumbers Beyond Pickles

By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com

Cucumbers should have a permanent slot on your shopping list. There are endless ways to use them in the kitchen. Grab a couple because one a week may not be enough.

How to harvest or select from the store:
Cucumbers are very easy to grow. The hard part is to getting out into the garden and harvesting every day once the plants start producing. Whether you are in a garden or in the produce section at your favorite market, choose firm and bright green cucumbers. Large cucumbers might seem like a bargain when sold at a unit price instead of by pound, but the large varieties tend to have tough skins and large watery seed cavities.

Choose small cucumbers because they have small seed cavities, thin skins, and tender flesh. If the market only has large ones, you might want to peel them and scoop out the seeds.

For peak freshness, choose cucumbers that are dark green, with no yellow spots or bruising on the flesh, which can be a sign that the cucumber may be bitter or bland.

Most cukes at the market are coated with edible wax or oil. You can scrub it away or peel it off, but you do need to remove it before eating.

To store: Optimal storage is in a perforated bag. The cucumbers are about 90% water so the bag will allow the cucumber to breathe and not allow produce drawer neighbors with strong odors to penetrate their skin.

Though grocers like to store baby cucumbers in foam trays wrapped in plastic, it's not good for them--it will speed spoilage.

I've long passed the days of my mom packing lunch of a cucumber sandwich for the pool... if only I could bring them back. Nothing sounds better than a thinly sliced cucumber and radish sandwich on thin whole wheat bread with lots of cracked black pepper and a dollop of Greek yogurt. (OK, I'll admit we did not have Greek yogurt back in the day, so my sandwich was spread with mayonnaise. Just think how much healthier we are with all the new food options!)

In addition to my beloved cucumber sandwiches, there are plenty of other options for the humble cucumber. This water-based vegetable is so versatile in salads and side dishes. Give some of these cucumber infused recipes a try.

  • Give black-eyed pea salad a summer twist by adding cubes of cucumber.
  • Add chunks or puree into fresh tomato gazpacho.
  • Let it be the headliner in a cold soup. Peel and puree 2 cucumbers with 1 green onion, 1/2 bunch cilantro, and 1 cup salsa verde. Stir in 1/2 Greek yogurt and chill.
  • Make a traditional raita to cool down Indian dishes, chipotle burgers, or lamb roast.
  • Make a quick cucumber salad with 1 sliced cucumber, 1 sliced carrot, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, pinch of sugar and salt. Let it chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before diving into as a nice addition to a sandwich.
  • Stuff cucumbers with hummus or pea puree.

Once you have finished making all these simple cucumbers recipes make sure you save two big cucumber rounds for yourself. Take a 5 minute break with your head back and eyes covered with the refreshing slices. A mini spa treat!

What is your favorite way to eat cucumbers?

Related links

10 Ways to Use Roasted Tomatoes

3 Zucchini Recipes: 15 Minutes Each and Under 100 Calories

Chef Meg's 4-Pack of Pickled Vegetables

SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of " The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.