nina | July 29th, 2013 - 9:00 am

Remember the cucumbers of our youth when they were as thick as baseball bats, their tough skins dappled with small, prickly spikes. Running my fingers along their peel was as pleasurable as stroking barbed wire.

But no more. Today, seedless varieties — known as English cucumbers. Happily, these plastic-wrapped cukes are just as easy to find as their traditional counterparts.

To use, slice neatly into rounds for salads, or use as a base for a simple hors d’oeuvre with soft cheese. Want to try something different?  Trade your knife for a vegetable peeler, and serve your cucumber salads in ribbons.

Need more variety? Try petite, tender Persian cucumbers. With thin skins, too, they pair beautifully with cherry tomatoes and hearts of palm. Or hop the pickling train with cucumber varieties called, apporpriately, pickling cucumbers. These stubby gourds are best suited to a long soak in a puckery brine.

No matter which variety you favor, select cucumbers that are firm to the touch. Avoid those with soft spots or signs of yellowing (unless you favor seedy, sun-colored lemon cucumbers).

For salads, slice cucumbers into rounds, half moons, or small dice. If you like, you can halve them lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a serrated spoon before slicing and dicing. Doing so is a matter of personal preference, but I find it makes salads crunchier.

If your cucumber is wrapped in plastic, pop it in the crisper as is. Otherwise, toss it in a plastic bag first. (But don’t seal the bag.)

Nutritional benefits:
One cup of cucumber provides potassium and calcium, both of which may help maintain healthy blood pressure, as well as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and lutein, which are all important antioxidants that may increase longevity, and we even get one gram of fiber.

It is best to eat cukes with the skin on, to maximize their nutritional impact.

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