One of the world’s most ancient foods, the cucumber has been bred from a bitter vining gourd into a juicy, cooling vegetable with an herbaceous sweetness.
Native to India, the cucumber has been grown as a food source for over 3000 years. A staple of the ancient Egyptian diet, the cucumber was also used to make liquor by cutting a hole in the ripe fruit, mashing the inside with a stick, plugging the hole, and letting it ferment. The cucumber has long been a favorite of royalty—the Roman emperor Tiberius ate cucumbers every day, and Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII, demanded them as well. Cucumbers were brought by Columbus to the New World, first to Haiti and later to the Americas. By the time of American colonization, eight varieties of cucumbers were being grown in the United States. For a brief period in the 18th century, medical journals warned that it was dangerous to eat uncooked cucumbers. However, by the 19th century, cucumbers had made a comeback, thanks in part to the newly formed Heinz company adding cucumber pickles to their product list.
Thanks to their high water content, cucumbers have a lower concentration of nutrients than many vegetables. That said, they are a good source of vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, as well as various antioxidants.
Wrap unwashed cucumbers in a dry towel, seal in a plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator crisper for up to 2 weeks.
While cucumbers are mainly used raw in salads or pickled, they are also delicious when grilled and served with herbs, fresh cheese or yogurt, and olive oil. Cucumbers can be juiced, blended into smoothies, or sliced and added to water or seltzer for a refreshing taste. Cucumbers are also popular when spiralized into vegetable “noodles” and used as a replacement for spaghetti in cold pasta dishes. Other uses for cucumbers include blending with green tomatoes into gazpacho, combining with garlic and yogurt for tzatziki, and dusting with chamoy for pepinos locos.
Slice cucumbers into rings or small sticks. Toss with salt and let drain for at least 30 minutes. Add to a bowl with thinly sliced red onion, chopped cilantro, and crushed peanuts. Season with a mix of rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, crushed garlic, and Korean chili paste. Toss to coat, and serve cold.
To remove cucumber bumps (or “burps”) without peeling, simply rub a cloth or vegetable brush along the length of the fruit until cucumber is smooth to the touch.