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Cucumbers are one vegetable that I like to eat when it's hot outside. Add them to a salad and it not only adds texture, but a cool refreshing crunch as well.

Today we find cucumbers that range from thick, stubby little fruits, three to four inches long, up to the great English greenhouse varieties that often reach a length of nearly two feet.

Cucumbers provide potassium, vitamin K, magnesium and fiber. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure, vitamin K and magnesium help build and maintain strong bones, and fiber helps control cholesterol and keeps you regular. Most of the nutrients in a cucumber are found in the skin, so keeping the skin on will boost nutrient value.

The so-called "gherkins" that we buy pickled in bottles or glass jars are simply pickled small cucumbers. The true gherkin, or West Indian gherkin, is a different species rarely grown in the United States. The true gherkin produces a warty (or "prickly") oval fruit about an inch long.

Luckily for cucumber lovers, they are available year round in supermarkets and are availawwwwble at your local Gateway Farmers Market and roadside stands from July to October.

When choosing cucumbers, look for those that are firm, green and slender. Avoid those with soft spots or wrinkled skin. Store unwashed cucumbers in a moisture-proof bag in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

To use them, wipe off any visible dirt. Then rinse under cool running water and scrub the outer layer well before eating or using in recipes. Eating with the skin on gives maximum nutritional value; however, if you must peel, use a vegetable peeler. The seeds of older cucumbers may become bitter—you may wish to remove them by slicing lengthwise and scooping the seeds out with a spoon.

Cucumbers are best eaten raw or barely cooked. They can be eaten plain as a snack or an appetizer, and sliced or chopped for salads. They also are great dipped in low-fat dressing or other low fat dips. Try adding sliced cucumbers to sandwiches as well for an added crunch.

A half cup of fresh cucumber has only 10 calories due to their high water content. It has zero fat, sodium or protein and contains only 2 grams of carbohydrates.

For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at cdue@uaex.edu, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.

This cucumber dip is great served with vegetable slices, or thin crackers and is so easy to make. It is even better if you can make it 30 minutes before and let the flavors blend together.

 

Cucumber Dip

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 green onions, sliced

1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar

1 clove garlic, crushed

 

Process all ingredients in blender until smooth. Chill for at least 10 minutes before serving.

 

Carla Due is a county extension agent-staff chair, with the Miller County Extension Office, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

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