They eventually spread to Europe, where for a long time they were used to quench thirst as they contain 96% water. Cucumbers are related to watermelon and are frequently used in salads, adding interesting texture. In New Zealand, we can buy several varieties of cucumber.
This is the most popular cucumber and is grown under glass. It is long, usually 30–45 cm, and often individually wrapped in plastic because its skin is very soft and is easily damaged. The plastic stops the cucumber drying out and going soft. Telegraph cucumber skin does not need peeling. They are often referred to as seedless because when harvested at their best, the seeds are immature or virtually non-existent.
Sometimes called the standard or stubby cucumber. It is short and has a slightly uneven surface. Grown indoors all year round, it can also be grown outdoors in the summer. The skin on a standard cucumber is tougher than a telegraph cucumber and is usually peeled. For some uses, the seeds are also removed.
This is a pale yellow cucumber with a diameter of around 9 cm and is about 12 cm long. It is crisp like an apple and has a very mild sweet flavour. The skin can be quite hard so it is usually peeled.
This is very small, between 5–10 cm long, and is grown only for pickling.
The Lebanese cucumber is green-skinned, white-fleshed and only 12–15 cm long. It has a juicy texture and a tender skin that does not need to be peeled. They look similar to the mini cucumber (below) but are slightly longer.
Mini or cocktail cucumber
Mini or cocktail cucumbers are similar to Lebanese cucumbers. They are green-skinned, white-fleshed but only 9–11 cm long. They are very sweet and juicy with a tender skin that does not need peeling.
What to look for
Choose cucumbers with firm skin and an even colour. The shade of the cucumber is important with Telegraph and short cucumbers; a vibrant green colour assures the buyer that the cucumbers have recently come from the vine, while a dull green or yellow indicates age.
All year, with short and apple cucumbers most plentiful in the summer.
Store in the warmest place in the fridge and use it promptly. At cooler times of the year, they can be stored on the bench. Lebanese cucumbers are always best refrigerated.
How to prepare
Young cucumbers have mild and tender skin and it is unnecessary to peel them. Telegraph, Lebanese and cocktail cucumbers never need to be peeled. European recipe books may advocate peeling and removing the seeds, but this is not normally necessary.
Ways to eat
Cucumbers are the most popular raw as a salad vegetable. Slices of raw cucumber can be used like crackers when serving nibbles with drinks. Cucumbers can also be used in cold soup. They can be chopped and sautéed or juiced.
Microwave, sauté, steam, stuff.
Lebanese cucumbers provide almost twice the amount of vitamin C and vitamin A compared to other varieties. Peeling cucumbers reduces the dietary fibre content slightly. Cucumbers have a high water content.
Try these ideas:
- Chilled cucumber soup.
- Cucumber and lentil salad.
- Diced watermelon and sliced cucumber with a mint dressing.
- Sliced, diced or julienned cucumber in salads.
- Cracked wheat with diced cucumber, mint leaves and a lemon dressing.
- Cucumber pickles.
- Raita to serve with curries and chargrilled meats.
- Cucumber noodles [use a spiralizer] with lemon glazed salmon fillet.
- Thin strips of cucumber to roll round fillings – like cannelloni.
- Sliced tomato and cucumber with grilled halloumi.
- Sliced cucumber in afternoon tea sandwiches.
- Cucumber and red quinoa soup with yoghurt.
- Steamed diced cucumber, tossed in olive oil and served with grilled chicken or fish
- Cucumber, rice noodles and prawn salad.
- Canapé base for salmon and cream cheese.
- Diced cucumber with sautéed sliced shallots, chopped peanuts and chopped coriander.