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Purple Onion

A member of the same family that gives us squash and melons, cucumbers are — ready for this? — really a fruit, not a vegetable.

Can we give a little love to the cucumber?

We slice them for salads, we brine them for pickles, and we get a lot in return.

Cucumbers are low-calorie vegetables that contain many nutritional benefits. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. And, if you are wondering, the peel and seeds are the most nutrient-dense parts. They contain fiber and beta carotene, the antioxidant that helps with immunity, skin, eye and the prevention of cancer. The seeds are a good source of minerals and contain calcium.

Low in calories, carbohydrates, sodium, fat and cholesterol, cucumbers are 95 percent water. Eating a cup of cucumbers is nearly as thirst-quenching as a glass of water, according to Eating Well magazine. That cup of cucumbers, with the peel, is just 16 calories and provides you with some of the potassium, fiber and vitamin C you need every day. Cucumbers might help relieve constipation. They can pack even more punch when pickled at home because the fermentation process means the pickles contain probiotics that promote healthy digestion.

There are hundreds of varieties of cucumbers and we generally think of the edible ones in two categories: those we slice and eat fresh and those we brine and pickle. Slicing cucumbers — think English cucumbers and common cucumbers — are usually larger and thicker-skinned than the small cucumbers used for pickles.

A member of the same family that gives us squash and melons, cucumbers are — ready for this? — really a fruit, not a vegetable. I don’t make this stuff up, readers! I learn it as I go, just like you.

When you buy cucumbers, pick ones that are stiff, straight and have minimal damage to the skin. These are all indications that the cucumber is fresh. Make sure it feels heavy, rather than light, and has a dark green skin.

Once you get your cucumbers home, keep them fresh by storing them in the refrigerator crisper. Ideally, they should be stored without any other fruits, but that’s not always possible, so try to use them soon after you bring them home.

Cucumbers are great in salads. They add a light, refreshing taste to chopped salad and Greek salads. They can be the star of a salad as well.

Here are a few options for cucumber salads that are easy and make bright, light accompaniments to spring and summer dinners and barbecues. The Overnight Cucumber Salad and Cucumber and Tomato Salad are tangy. The Cucumbers in Sour Cream Salad reminds me of one we ate at family cookouts.

I like the idea of adding peas to this salad for a change of pace and sweet crunch.

Cucumbers can appear in the salad without being seen as well. For a fresh, bright salad, give the Where’s the Cucumber Salad a try. Snow peas, carrots and iceberg lettuce are dressed with a spicy cucumber-ginger dressing which brings out the sweet of the cucumber.

I know plenty of people who are fans of tzatziki, the yogurt and cucumber dip that you find on Greek gyros, as dip with pita bread or chips and as a dip for fresh veggies. We offer a version here that uses full-fat Greek yogurt and a nice, fresh hint of both dill and mint. Be certain to let your grated cucumber drain and squeeze out any remaining moisture to keep the tzatziki from getting water-y and separating. Serve it on pita wraps, with grilled meats and veggies or with a couscous salad.

If you want to try your hand at pickles, we’ve got a couple of quick pickle recipes that don’t take much time. As an added bonus, you can store them in your refrigerator and eat right away or in a few days. If you think you might like a pickle that will store longer, try the Seven-Day Sweet Pickles. These pickles are both sweet and sour. And while you might wonder when you’re going through the process how the pickles will turn out, they are crisp and addictive. Serve them as a side with sandwiches and barbecues or add them to tuna salad or deviled eggs.

Allan Hathaway is the owner of The Purple Onion and WV Marketplace at Charleston’s Capitol Market. Visit the web pages at capitolmarket.net/merchants/purple-onion and capitolmarket.net/merchants/wv-marketplace; or call The Purple Onion at 304-342-4414 and WV Marketplace at 304-720-2244. Email at purpleonionco@aol.com.

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