Friday, June 18, 2010

13 Uses for Cucumbers

Photo courtesy: Care2

Ah, the humble cucumber–it sits patiently in the crisper drawer while its flashier cousins are being scooped up and devoured for dinner. The cucumber just waits and waits in all of it’s watery, melon-tinged mild manner. So, what is a cucumber’s claim to fame?

Not only is cucumber light and refreshing to eat; but, it can replace many expensive facial preparations that may or may not be good for you.

The flesh of the cucumber is mostly water; but, also contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffeic acid. Both of these help soothe skin irritations and reduce swelling which explains why they make such a great aid for puffy "morning" eyes. These acids are also known to prevent water retention which may be another reason why cucumbers (when applied topically) are often helpful for swollen eyes, burns and dermatitis.

Cucumbers are a great treat for the skin. They have the same pH as the skin so they help restore the protective acid mantle. As a bonus, they also possess hydrating, nourishing and astringent properties.

Cucumbers’ skin is rich in fiber and contains a variety of beneficial minerals including silica, potassium and magnesium. The silica in cucumber is an essential component of healthy connective tissue; which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone. Cucumber juice is often recommended as a source of silica to improve the complexion and health of the skin. Since cucumber’s high water content makes it naturally hydrating, it is a natural way to get glowing skin.

1. Make a Cooling Summer Bath
It’s a bath that incorporates, ta da, cucumbers! Along with fresh mint and a hit of floral essential oil. Mmmmm. According to University of Maryland Medical Center, peppermint has a soothing and cooling effect on skin irritations caused by hives, poison ivy, or poison oak; it reduces headache symptoms; and it can be used in the treatment of depression. (So if you’re hot, itchy, depressed and have a headache …)

To a tub of tepid water add 2 cups epsom salt, stir in 1 sliced cucumber, a handful of torn peppermint leaves and an optional 3 drops ylang ylang pure essential oil. Soak, be soft and happy.

2. Soothe Puffy Eyes
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. The high water content helps to hydrate tender skin in the eye region while the chill of a refrigerated cucumber helps contract blood vessels in the area – both effects combine to reduce swelling. It also feels incredible. To use cucumbers as an eye treatment, grab a cold cucumber from the refrigerator and cut two thick slices. Find a comfortable place to relax and set the cucumbers over your closed eyes for about 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Make a Cucumber Toner
This formula is inspired by one in the book Ecobeauty: Scrubs, Rubs, Masks, and Bath Bombs for You and Your Friends–it is very mild and works well for all skin types. If you ever wake up feeling like your face is a little puffy, this toner is your best bet for calming and tightening your skin.

1/2 cucumber with peel, chopped
3 tablespoons witch hazel
2 tablespoons distilled water

Put all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove all of the solids, then pour the toner into a clean bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Store this toner in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life—it should last for several weeks. To use, apply the toner to your face using a clean cotton ball.

4. Make a Cucumber Avocado Facial Mask
The next two formulas are from the Cucumber Growers' Association and are simple yet sumptuous treats for your face.

1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped avocado
1 egg white
2 teaspoons powdered milk

Blend all the ingredients together until they form a smooth, paste-like consistency. The mask can either be used immediately or left in the fridge for half an hour first. Massage 2 tbsp of the mask onto face and neck using circular upward motions. Relax for 30 minutes, or until the mask is dry. Rinse off with warm water, then follow with a cold water rinse. Pat dry.

5. Make a Cucumber & Yogurt Mask
This one is good for combination sin.

1/2 cucumber
1 tbsp plain/natural yogurt

Puree the cucumber in a blender. Mix in the yoghurt. Apply all over face and neck. Relax for 15-20 minutes. Rinse off with warm water, then follow with a splash of cold water.

6. Make a Cucumber Anti-Blemish Face Mask
From the book, The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book by Jo Fairley.

1-inch chunk of cucumber
1 drop rosemary essential oil
1 egg white

Whizz the cucumber in a blender until it becomes completely liquid, then add the drop of rosemary essential oil. Whisk the egg white until stiff, fold in the cucumber mixture and smooth over the face avoiding the eyes and mouth area. Remove after 15 minutes using a clean, damp washcloth.

7. Refresh with a Cucumber Skin Tonic
Chop 1 cucumber and puree in a blender with 4 tablespoons mint. Strain off the juice and store in the fridge. The tonic will keep for 24 hours in the fridge. To increase its life add 1 teaspoon vodka.

8. Mix Cucumber with honey for a Cucumber-Honey Toner
This recipe is from the National Honey Board

1 medium cucumber, peeled and cut up into pieces
2 teaspoon honey

Puree cucumber in a blender. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and set the sieve over a glass bowl or measuring cup. Pour the cucumber puree through the sieve and let it stand for 15 minutes for the juices to drip into the bowl. Pour the clear juice into a clean bottle and add honey. To use, shake the bottle and saturate a cotton pad with the lotion. Sweep over face, neck and chest morning and night, and let it air dry (about 3 to 4 minutes). Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes about 1/2 cup.

9. Condition Chlorine-Damaged Hair
This conditioner is said to work wonders on hair damaged by routine swimming in chlorinated water.

1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 quarter of a peeled cucumber

Blend the egg, olive oil and peeled cucumber. Spread evenly through your hair, leave on for 10 minutes, then thoroughly rinse. For the best results year-round, continue this treatment monthly.

10. Make Quick Pickles
This recipe for quick crock pickles from Serving Up the Harvest (Storey, 2007) by Andrea Chesman, isn’t quick in terms of brining time (two days to six weeks); but, the preparation time is speedy indeed. If you don’t have cucumbers, get creative – other vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, or zucchini will make just as wonderful pickles! After they have pickled, the vegetables can be stored for up to three months in the refrigerator, bringing a few flashes of summer greediness into the approaching cool weather.

11. Eat Cucumber Salads

Cucumber Cashew Coleslaw
2 large cucumbers, cleaned, partially peeled (see note), and coarsely cubed
1/3 head cabbage, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 cup roasted salted cashews
2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey

1. Combine all ingredients except for cashews and refrigerate, tossing occasionally, for at least 30 minutes for flavors to meld.

2. Add cashews and serve.

Dilled Cucumber and Sour Cream Salad
2 medium cucumbers, peeled if not organic, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1 garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried dill weed

1. Place sour cream, milk, garlic, salt and pepper in a small lidded jar. Shake thoroughly to combine.

2. Place cucumber slices in a serving bowl and drizzle dressing over them. Sprinkle with dill. May be served immediately, or chilled until ready to serve.

12. Make Chilled Soups

Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup Recipe
2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and minced
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3/4 teaspoon ground roasted cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

1. Beat the yogurt in a bowl with a whisk or fork until smooth. Mix with the remaining ingredients.

2. Chill until ready to serve.

Chilled Persian Cucumber Yogurt Soup
3 tablespoons golden raisins
1 1/2 cups hot water
3 cups plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups ice water
1 1/2 cups sour cream (use reduced fat if you like)
1 1/2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and grated
3 scallions, green parts only, sliced very fine
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill or spearmint, whichever you prefer

1. Soak the raisins in the hot water for 1 hour, then drain them.

2. Place the yogurt in a serving bowl, then beat with a fork or whisk until creamy. Beat in the ice water and the sour cream. Add the cucumber, scallion, walnuts, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Sprinkle the raisins and dill or spearmint over the top.

3. Serve the soup immediately, or chill until you’re ready to eat.

Chilled Cucumber Avocado Soup
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 ripe Haas avocados, pitted, peeled, and chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cold water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. In a blender or food processor, combine the cucumber, avocados, green onions, lime juice, sour cream, and water. Process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick for your liking, thin it with water.

2. Stir in the cilantro and serve immediately, or cover and let chill.

Serves 4.

Cucumber and White Grape Gazpacho
2 cups peeled, seeded, and diced cucumbers
2 cups seeded and diced tomatillos
2 cups diced white grapes
1/4 cup ginger juice
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl; season to taste.

2. Place three-fourths of the mixture in a food processor and process until smooth.

3. Put it back in the bowl with remaining fruit and vegetables and stir to combine. Serve chilled.

13. Try Cucumber Side Dishes

Summery Couscous with Cucumber and Mint
1 lemon
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups gently packed arugula leaves
1/3 medium English cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
1 small shallot, minced
1 cup couscous, preferably whole wheat
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (optional)

1. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a medium bowl. Whisk in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until thoroughly blended. Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Stir in the arugula, cucumber, and mint. Set aside.

3. Bring the broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Set aside.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the couscous, tossing until coated with the oil, about 1 minute.

4. Add the hot broth and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a vigorous simmer, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand until the liquid is absorbed, about 8 minutes.

5. Fluff couscous with a fork and then stir in the arugula mixture. Cover and let stand until the arugula is slightly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve sprinkled with pine nuts, if desired.

Serve 4 to 6.

Dilled Rice and Lentils with Creamy Cucumber Salad
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup green lentils
1 cup basmati rice
5 cups good-quality vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tamari or good-quality soy sauce
1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dried dill weed, or 2 tablespoons fresh

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil and then add onion and garlic, sautéing about 5 minutes, until onion is translucent.

2. Add lentils, stirring to coat, then add broth. Turn heat to high and bring mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add rice and continue to cook for another 20 minutes, adding water or broth if the mixture is too dry, until rice and lentils are cooked and the liquid has been absorbed.

3. Add tamari, vinegar, and dill, stirring to combine. Set aside.

Don't forget one of my favourites - Greek salad!

Via Care2

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