Blame it on global warming, or diminishing green cover, it already feels like we are in the thick of summer.
There's something that calms the scorching heat, though. Come summer, and you invariably spot the cucumber-seller's cart round the corner. All s/he carries on the cart is loads of fresh cucumber, a bucketful of water, a knife and a pot of tangy masala. For a meagre sum, you can select or ask the vendor to pick a nice, juicy cucumber, peel it, slit it into quarters along the length, sprinkle some masala and "serve" it to you. One bite, and you'll know, that, this is, indeed, the ultimate thirst quencher.
Cucumbers were first cultivated in India, 3,000 years ago.
In times gone by, when fruits and vegetables were not available round-the-year, eating seasonal produce was the best way to remain healthy. Watermelon and cucumber would flood the markets in summer to cool-off and replenish us. The tradition continues - the difference being of degree.
Cucumbers belong to the squash family such as pumpkin and watermelon. The "flesh" which is mostly water is also a good source of vitamin C and caffeic acid. The skin is rich in dietary fibre and vital minerals.
Good for you
Hot, humid weather conditions make the skin and hair look dull and lifeless. Cucumber juice is rich in silica which is known to "reload" skin health. The high water ratio in cucumber makes it naturally hydrating - a must for glowing skin.
What's more, cucumber pulp applied on the skin relieves swollen eyes and sunburn.
Two compounds in cucumbers, ascorbic acid [vitamin C] and caffeic acid, prevent water retention, which may explain why cucumbers when applied on the skin are so invigorating.
The rich fibre and water content in cucumber are perfect food to relieve constipation and expel toxins from the body, which can otherwise lead to skin flare-up and nasty headaches. Also, silica, potassium and magnesium are an added bonus - all good minerals.
Drinking cucumber juice helps soothe the pain and discomfort caused due to hyperacidity or stomach ulcers too. Half a glass of cucumber juice can be had every 2-3 hours to provide substantial relief from summer's disconcerting symptoms.
Cucumber is also a natural diuretic - in other words, it increases your urine output. It, therefore, helps in urinary disorders like burning during urination and in dissolving gravel in the urinary tract.
Cucumber has just about 20 calories per 100 gm and zero fat. It is, doubtless, a dieter's best friend. The crunch while biting into a cucumber also gives the feeling of having eaten something substantial. A weight watcher can snack on a cucumber whenever hunger pangs strike. It is also one of the fruits a diabetic can have without worrying about one's blood sugar levels.
Choose them right
There are 3-4 varieties of cucumber available in our market: one with dark green skin or a white or pale green skin, the other a large-sized fruit used in cooking. The nutritional value doesn't differ much among the two species. Always choose cucumbers that are firm with rounded edges. Those that have sunken, soggy areas, or are wrinkled at their tips, must be avoided. Thin cucumbers generally have less seeds than those that are thicker. If you buy any of the fancy "imported" cucumbers with a thick layer of shiny wax on them, make sure you peel them before use.
Cucumbers should and can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Left at room temperature for too long will cause them to wilt and become limp.
New ideas for the good ol' cucumber
Have you always just sliced a cucumber up for a green salad, or for your chutney sandwich? With so many benefits from this fruit, it is good to have a handful of recipes handy so that you can eat them more often.
Just cutting a cucumber in interesting ways will give you more ideas. Cut into sticks that can go into a crudite platter along with a carrot stick served with a dip. Cut into half length-wise or sliced diagonally is great for an Asian salad with soy sauce, sesame seed, and honey dressing. Other temptations include -
- Starting your day with the juice of cucumber and tomato has a detoxifying effect
- Cucumber raita is an age-old Indian recipe where grated cucumbers are mixed into thick yogurt. You can do variations by changing the spices used. A South Indian raita would typically have a tempering of mustard seeds [rai], chopped green chillies and split black gram dal [udad]. You could also do an Italian twist by using fresh basil leaves, or dried basil, or oregano with salt and pepper. Freshly chopped mint and orange zest mixed into the raita will give a burst of freshness to your summer dish.
- Slice your cukes diagonally - at an angle - to get long, slightly thick slices. Spread coriander chutney or tomato-based spread and top with grated cheese for a unique party starter.
- If you hate standing near the stove top in summer heat, this cold soup is the one for you. Simply throw two sliced cucumbers, two tomatoes, and one-half of green capsicum in the blender. Blitz to a smooth puree along with some cold water. Remove into two bowls, chill thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with mint, and you have a simple yet stunning gazpacho ready!
- Since cucumber is not very high in flavour, you can make interesting salads by combining it with fruits like segmented sweet lime. A light dressing like balsamic vinegar, English mustard and ground pepper takes cucumber to new heights. Cucumber salad made with sprouted moong, pomegranate and fresh, grated coconut is another great combination.
Cucumber Beauty Tips
Dark circles. Mix equal quantities of cucumber and potato juice and apply it daily around the eyes. Wash it off after 15 minutes. Apply pure almond oil under the eyes and massage lightly using only the ring finger, so that the skin does not get stretched. Do this for a few weeks to lighten dark circles around the eyes
Astringent. Peel and roughly chop half a cucumber; puree in blender. Apply on face and leave for 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry
Blemish buster. Blend 1/2 peeled cucumber with 1 tbsp of skimmed milk powder and 1 tsp of yogurt. Apply on face and wash after 20 minutes
Glow facial. Mix one tsp of grated cucumber with a few drops of rose-water. Apply on face and wash after 15 minutes. Pat dry.
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