“When I feel the heat, I see the light.” — Everett Dirksen

The heat of summer can be challenging for even the most conscious of cooks. Blazing temperatures and rising humidity can lead to skin irritations, exhaustion, dehydration, rising blood pressure and short tempers. Keeping cool with soothing, natural foods can benefit the body both physically and emotionally.

Utilizing kitchen time wisely will cut down on overheating. Prepare baked goods early in the morning, and focus on enjoying more raw foods. Summer is the ideal season to enjoy spectacular local foods that require minimal prep and cook time.

Farm fresh foods with high water content are particularly valuable in the heat of summer. Cucumbers, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches and lettuces all offer extremely high percentages of hydration and delicious relief.

With 95 percent water content, cucumbers are captivatingly cooling. Available now at many farm stands, fresh, local cucumbers have a delightful crunch and wonderful flavor. Keep plenty of cucumbers on hand for a quick snack, or add to smoothies, salads, sandwiches and salsas. Quick pickled cucumbers add zest to burgers and veggie sandwiches or wraps. Cucumbers are fabulous in summer rolls. Wrap thinly sliced strips of cucumber, carrots, peppers with fresh basil, mint and cilantro in a rice paper wrapper that has been lightly soaked in water until pliable, and you will have a marvelously refreshing summer meal. Add cooked shrimp or crabmeat if desired. Cucumbers can be added to yogurt or sour cream to make a nice dip, or puréed into a cool, creamy soup.

Cucumbers contain ascorbic acid and caffeic acid, which may assist with easing the discomfort of sunburn, dermatitis and water retention. If your eyes are swollen or very tired, place a cucumber slice on each eye, lie down for five to 10 minutes and your eyes should feel greatly refreshed. Eating more cucumbers, with their intense hydration and high silica content, can result in luminous skin. Cucumber consumption may have an impact on preventing gum disease, improving nail appearance and enhancing hair growth. Cucumbers are a good source of potassium, which promotes muscle flexibility, as well as magnesium, which relaxes muscles and nerves and keeps blood circulating smoothly.

When choosing cucumbers at the market, look for vibrant green skin. Feel them for firmness, avoid any that are squishy or soft. Store them in the vegetable crisper until ready to use. When ready to enjoy your cucumbers, wash very well. If you are able to tolerate the peel, leave it on, as the peels are a rich source of fiber that can help regulate blood pressure and bowel function.

Keep cool in your kitchen this summer and enjoy cucumbers as you prepare your delicious life!

Beat the Heat Cucumber Salad

Serves 4-6

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 minced, seeded jalapeno (optional)

2 minced garlic cloves

4 medium cucumbers ( well washed and thinly sliced)

½ cup very thinly sliced red onion

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, basil and cilantro

4-5 tablespoons roughly chopped roasted peanuts (optional)

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

Mix together first six ingredients to make dressing. Place cucumbers, onion and herbs into a large bowl. Toss gently with the dressing. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Add peanuts and more herbs, if desired and serve.

Robin Glowa , HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook,” writes about preparing a delicious life and presents healthy food workshops throughout New England. She is a professional cook, organic gardener, and a graduate of The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and Columbia University Teachers College.