Mediterranean summer salad

In defense of cucumbers: healthy, diverse, misunderstood.

Cucumbers get no respect. They're mostly water (in a 52 gram-serving, 49.5 grams is water) and not known for having an exciting flavor profile. But this summer, give cukes a chance.

That they're 95 percent water actually makes them a great way to stay hydrated during the next heat wave. Plus they contain vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that helps blood clot; and have a high phenolic content, a compound that helps fight chronic disease, according to research published in The Journal of Nutrition.Setting their nutritional résumé aside, they can still be accused of blandness. Liven things up by moving beyond the conventional kind. There are numerous heirloom varieties that can be found at specialty markets (and cucumbers are notoriously easy to grow in a backyard garden). Look for lemon cucumbers, which are yellow and round, and more mellow than the green kind we see most frequently. Or plant white wonders, which date back to the late 1800s and are great for pickling, too. Some people favor seedless cucumbers, such as English and Armenian, because they're easier on the GI tract. (They're actually called burp-less. Go figure.)

Now, what to do with all those fascinating cucumbers? Try this simple, fresh Middle Eastern-inspired summer salad from the folks at Cava Grill:

In a large bowl, toss together 3 large cucumbers, sliced; 1 yellow bell pepper, diced; and ½ red onion, halved and very thinly sliced. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and dress with tzatziki, olive oil and herbs (such as fresh dill or parsley), or treat to a quick pickle (à la this pickled watermelon rind).