This tangy, refreshing dish may seem like the easiest thing to make in the world. And it is, but our goal is to demonstrate that easy and simple foods don’t necessarily need to be plain and boring. Did you know that there are five different ways to cut your cukes to add extra texture and good looks to your salad? Not to mention the countless combos you can make with different types of vegetables, fruits, nuts, cheeses, pasta, and dressings.
The tips and tricks we offer will increase your efficiency in the preparation of this summery dish and enable you to make it different every time. Our ingredients and dressing suggestions will enrich your cucumber salad repertoire, but also teach you how to boost your salad healthiness without spoiling its deliciousness.
Cucumbers – Nutrition and Health Benefits
There is an interesting fact connected to cucumbers – botanically, they are actually fruits belonging to the melon family!
Cucumbers originate in India, where they have been grown for over 3000 years. This green veggie was brought to Europe by the Greeks or Romans but arrived in North America as late as the 16th century.
Cucumber salad is not only tasty, but it also contributes a wide range of nutrients that keep you in good shape and boost your overall health:
- They are packed with antioxidants that fight harmful free radicals and inflammations, thus protecting the organism from various diseases, including cancer;
- They offer a large number of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins K and C, magnesium, potassium and manganese, but are low in calories. In addition, they contain zero fats, which makes them an ideal addition to your weight loss plan;
- Cucumbers are a natural diuretic that helps your body get rid of toxins and wastes;
- They boost digestion and relieve digestive issues like constipation and bloating;
- Large doses of vitamin K help strengthen the bones;
- Cucumber slices applied to the skin soothe irritations, redness, acne, and relieve sunburn;
- Magnesium and potassium help reduce the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and regulate blood pressure, thus fighting against cardiovascular disease.
Prepping the Cucumbers for a Salad
Cooking cucumbers is virtually impossible due to the high amount of water they contain. However, this should not be considered a downside. These veggies taste really good when eaten raw, allowing you to enjoy their cool flavor along with the nutritional elements. So, you are left with the option to include this nutritional superfood in a salad.
Note: There is one exception, though – cucumbers can be grilled. Cut them into spears (read #1 below). Marinate these cucumber spears in a mixture made of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and salt for about 15 minutes.
Heat the grill on medium heat and place the cucumbers. Grill for about 10 minutes, turning from time to time to ensure they are grilled evenly. Prepared like these, cukes pair great with cheesy dressings.
There are three things to do before cutting the cukes:
- Check if you have the right cukes for a salad. The best cukes for a salad are the regular ones (not the small ones, they are for pickling). Look for firm, dark-green cucumbers that do not have soft or dark sports.
- Wash well. These water-logged veggies get easily contaminated precisely because of their high water content, so try to buy organic cucumbers whenever possible, especially if you like eating them with the skin on. Most cucumbers sold at regular grocery stores and supermarkets are often waxed to keep them from spoiling. That is why, if you have non-organic cucumbers, you should peel the skin off or give the cucumbers a good scrub before use. Washing your veggies will not only remove the wax, but also any present chemicals, contaminants, toxins, and bacteria like salmonella, e.coli, or staphylococcus. To make sure they are washed thoroughly, use a scrub brush.
- Remove the stems. They are not edible, so cut them off by slicing the hard disks on both sides of the cucumber.
- Optionally, peel the cucumbers lengthwise, using a vegetable peeler (do this if your cucumbers are non-organic).
- Remove the seeds? Even though you might be tempted to remove the seeds, restrain yourself. While it is true that the seeds consist mostly of water and can make the salad too soggy, they also contain valuable nutrients and you won’t even notice their presence in the salad. If you still insist on getting rid of them, use a scoop, spoon, knife, or an apple corer.
How to Cut Cucumbers for a Salad
If you thought a salad can only be made with sliced cucumbers, you are wrong. There are five ways to cut your cukes to add extra crunch, texture, and appeal to this fresh, summer dish!
Cut the cucumbers in half along its width twice (you should have three pieces). Cut each piece lengthwise, in half, and then in half twice more.
To dice the cucumber into uniform pieces, lay it horizontally on the cutting board and cut 2-3 long narrow strips. Cut each strip once more lengthwise, then turn the veggie halfway and dice by cutting along the width.
This is best done when using a vegetable/potato peeler. Begin peeling in a circular motion at one end, and go on until you’ve reached the end of the cucumber, producing a very thin peel. Don’t worry if the spiral breaks, the salad will still look and taste great!
#4 Straight slices
Use the same peeler to shave off long, thin ribbons, discarding the inner parts that are full of seeds, if you wish. You can do this with a knife as well, but it is faster and more efficient with a peeler.
To julienne means to cut into thin, uniform matchstick-sized pieces. Cut the cucumber into a rectangle, then cut each rectangle lengthwise, forming 1/8-inch slices. Stack several slices together and cut lengthwise once more, producing thin julienne slices.
Note: To enhance the flavor of your cucumber slices, sprinkle some sea salt onto them and let put them in the fridge for about half an hour before arranging the salad.
Note 2: you can also grate the cucumber, but in that case, make sure you squeeze it to expel the excess water before incorporating it in your salad.
Note 3: Whole cucumbers in their ‘as-bought’ state can be kept in the fridge, at very low temperatures for a few days. Peeled and cut cucumbers are kept in a plastic bag, also in the fridge. Consume within three days.
Dressing the Cucumber Salad
When it comes to toppings for cucumber salads, the possibilities are countless –from the most basic vinegar to rich vinaigrettes, from yogurt to the most lavish options including mayonnaise, Italian, and ranch dressings.
We suggest topping the cukes with healthy ingredients in order to boost their health benefits, and emphasize their flavor, without increasing the amount of fats and calories.
As simple and plain as it seems, vinegar adds just the perfect amount of flavor to your salad, keeping the calorie count low. One option is to simply sprinkle some vinegar over your sliced cucumbers, along with some salt and olive oil.
An even better option is to make a good-for-you vinaigrette using the healthiest of vinegars whose benefits range from facilitating weight loss to reducing blood pressure – apple cider vinegar.
Whenever possible, opt for reduced-fat dressings. The flavor and texture of these dressings remain intact, but their healthiness is much greater. For the base of your homemade low-fat dressings, choose low-fat yogurt or buttermilk, as well as natural mayonnaise. Avoid using non-fat options, since the body needs just a bit of fat in order to absorb the nutrients from the cucumbers more easily.
Reduced-fat yogurt will also contribute extra calcium, proteins, and probiotics, taking the healthiness of the cucumber salad to another level. For a quick fix, mix your low-fat yogurt with some fresh herbs like basil, mint, and dill.
Plain-tasting cukes love herbs and spices for their intense flavors. Moreover, spices and herbs (whether fresh or dried), contain almost no fat and calories but are rich in nutrients such as vitamin C and iron. Sprinkle mint, rosemary, dill, cilantro, basil, thyme or spices like garlic powder, chili powder, black pepper, ginger, or turmeric over your sliced and diced cucumbers.
Amazing Cucumber Salad Recipes
Salads are the place where plain veggies go to become amazing and nutritive meals. Plainness becomes an advantage when you incorporate your cukes in a salad because they combine with almost every type of ingredients – other veggies, fruits, nuts, exotic spices, pasta, cheese. Here are just a few suggestions to tickle your imagination.
Cucumber salad can easily be turned into an exotic rainbow with the use of ingredients like soy sauce, sesame seeds, sriracha, or ginger. This simple crunchy Asian cucumber salad is made crunchy by including salted peanuts, and slightly hot with the addition of Thai chilies, all covered in a rice wine vinaigrette.
Adding pasta and cheese to the cukes will turn your salad into a delicious and fulfilling meal! You can use any kind of pasta, preferably chilled in the fridge. This dish is perfect for saving your leftover Asian noodles or, like in this recipe, Italian ditalini. The choice of cheese is also at your discretion. Add banana peppers, avocado oil, and champagne vinegar and you’ve got yourself a fantastic lunch!
This delicious and refreshing combination is a nutritious feast full of antioxidants. It represents a perfect balance of colors, as well as flavors, combining the sweetness of honey and tanginess of balsamic vinegar in the dressing.
Besides combining avocado, tomato and cucumber slices to produce this gluten free and grain free salad, you can also mash up a quick guacamole and serve it over cucumber strips. Another option is to use the same strips to form rolls around the guacamole, then fix with toothpicks! The sky is the limit for, as we said, cucumber salads are anything but boring.