Cucumbers are a really versatile garden vegetable, because they grow quickly and can be used in so many different ways, although most of us just like to eat them sliced on a relish tray with other vegetables and dip, or my favorite, on a sandwich with slices of fresh homegrown tomatoes.
Cucumbers have been cultivated for about 3,000 years. They are members of the gourd family, not melons or squash. There are two types of plants: vining and bush. The vines extend out across the ground or grow up trellises or other supports. The plant puts out thin, spirally tendrils which wrap around the support to hold the plant up. The bush variety forms a compact, upright plant that takes up less room in the garden.
Cucumbers like lots of sun and hot weather and plenty of water, and will keep growing until frost. They like a long growing season, but most are ready to pick in about 60-70 days. Keep an eye on them because once the cucumbers start to come on, they'll hide under the thick cover of the big leaves, and they'll keep growing until they're big and pithy. If they're left on the vine too long they start to get bitter.
There are three types of cucumbers:
1. Slicing - for eating raw and fresh, peeled or unpeeled, although some varieties might be a little bitter with the skins on.
2. Pickling - any cucumber can be pickled, but there are many hybrids grown especially for pickling.
3. Seedless or burpless - easier to digest, more pleasant taste. Some don't need to be peeled.
China is the world's biggest producer of cucumbers, followed by Turkey, Russia, Iran and Ukraine.
Cucumbers are about 95 percent water. They're usually consumed raw and cold, but are sometimes even used in stir fry, in stews, and breaded and fried like green tomatoes or eggplant.
What's your favorite way to eat a cucumber? They go so well with many other vegetables, especially as a side dish peeled and sliced raw with a dip, on a sandwich, often paired with fresh tomatoes, and with cheese. They're often diced or pureed into cold soups and sauces, too.
In fact, here's a delicious sauce you can make with cucumbers that's often found with Greek and Mediterranean foods -- tzatziki. It's great as a dip, topping or condiment, especially with spicy meat dishes.
It's really quick and easy. Here's how to do it:
Peel and cut a cucumber and remove the seeds. Finely chop or grate the cucumber.
Squeeze out the excess water with cheesecloth, or just squeeze the diced cucumber in your fist. Do this to remove the excess moisture, or your sauce will be very watery the next day.
Put the drained cucumber in a medium bowl, and add 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill, and salt and pepper to taste.
Whisk it all together and chill for about an hour. Serve with pita chips or veggies.
Here's the recipe:
Tzatzike made easy
1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt, chilled
1 English or Armenian cucumber, peeled and seeded and finely grated or diced.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Squeeze excess water out of the diced or grated cucumber (with cheesecloth or fistful).
2. Combine in a medium bowl with the other ingredients. Whisk together.
3. Tastes best if chilled before serving.