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September, 2009

Cucumbers

By Cheryl Forberg

Though they’re available year-round, now is the peak of cucumber season.

Organic Cucumbers
They rarely play a starring role, so it’s easy to forget that cucumbers are a deliciously crunchy addition to salads, sushi, sandwiches and the notorious crudite platter. But their texture and flavor aren’t the only virtues they possess.

Cucumbers are very high in water, which makes them filling even though they’re low in calories. Very low in fact – an eight ounce hothouse cucumber has only 26 calories (and 20% of the RDA for Vitamin C.) Because their skin is so delicate, cucumbers require special handling. Hothouse or English cucumbers are usually wrapped in plastic casing and sometimes packed in additional paper for shipping. Regular cucumbers (generally from Mexico) are waxed to prevent bruising and to preserve moisture content because they often spend a few days on a truck during shipping. The wax used on cucumbers is the same wax used on apples. It’s 100% edible and is usually made from carnauba palm, a plant wax. One of my favorite ways to prepare cucumbers is a classic Greek recipe called Tzatziki. Not only is it bursting with flavor, it is a quick and easy way to turn a humdrum piece of chicken or fish into a memorable meal.

The base of this sauce is usually whole milk yogurt which is combined with grated cucumbers, dill or mint, sometimes lemon and a little salt a pepper. The fresh, light and slightly acidic flavors make it pair well with heavy or rich meats such as the roasted lamb used in gyro sandwiches. Instead of using whole milk yogurt, I like to use the Greek-style. Now widely available, Greek-style yogurt is strained more than most of our typical American-style yogurts. This removes more of the yogurt's watery whey. Since whey is mostly carbohydrates (with small amount of protein), the strained yogurt now contains less carbohydrates and consequently a higher concentration of protein. Since more liquid is removed, this results in a wonderfully creamy texture, even in the fat-free version. It has slightly less calcium than American-style yogurt, since a small amount of the calcium is lost in the additional straining process. Unless the product specifically states that a different type of milk is used, most of the Greek-style yogurt we see in the stores is in fact made from cow's milk.

1 cup of Greek-Style, nonfat plain yogurt has approx. 100 calories, 5g of carbs and 20g of protein. By comparison, 1 cup of American-style, nonfat plain yogurt has approx 100 calories, 19g of carbs and 10g of protein.

Tzatziki
Tzatziki
This tangy Greek recipe is a versatile accompaniment to grilled chicken, salmon or traditionally, the gyro sandwich. Yield: 2 cups or six 1/3 - cup servings

Ingredients:
2 cups plain non-fat Greek-style yogurt
1 English or hothouse cucumber with ends trimmed (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon fresh grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill or mint
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon onion powder,

Instructions:
Place the yogurt in a cheesecloth or paper towel-lined sieve and set it over a bowl. Grate the cucumber and toss it with 1 teaspoon of salt; place it in another sieve and set it over another bowl. Place bowls in the refrigerator for an hour to let them drain. Transfer the drained yogurt to mixing bowl. Gently squeeze liquid from the cucumber. Add the cucumber to the yogurt. Add remaining ingredients and stir gently to combine. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a few hours to let flavors marry. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Nutrient Analysis – per serving
Calories 40
Fat calories 0
Total Fat 0g
Sat Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0g
Sodium 350mg
Total Carb 3g
Fiber 1g
Sugars 2g
Protein 7g
Vitamin A 2%
Vitamin C 8%
Calcium 6%
Iron 0%