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Without cucumber slices, a plate of Nasi Lemak does not look complete. It’s the green skin and pale flesh that compliments the white rice and red sambal or gravy. Its fleshy crispness also gives a different bite compared to the crunchiness of groundnuts and fried anchovies. As Nasi Lemak is odd and unsuitable if served with lettuce or other greens, cucumbers provide the necessary vitamins from vegetables.

According to certain studies, the cucumbers eaten with grilled sate reduces the effect of carcinogens which are present in slightly burnt food. With sate, cucumbers add a certain balance to the spices in marinated chicken, beef or mutton. The freshness and crispness also goes well with the rich peanutty gravy accompanying the sate. Besides that, their green colour makes the whole dish look attractive.

Cucumbers are always eaten with Sambal Belacan – a hot concoction of pounded chillies and belacan or dried shrimp paste – as it gives a bite compared to other leafy herbs. Its cooling effect also ‘tones’ down the heat in hot chillies found in the sambal.

Diced cucumbers also makes a raita (added with plain yoghurt) in Indian cooking. It is a suitable accompaniment for spicy mutton or beef curries and briyanis cooked with herbs like mint and coriander leaves. The rich gravy of curries and heat from various spices in briyanis ‘cools down’ when eaten with cucumbers.

Acar or a type of light Malay salad of cucumbers, pineapples and onions tossed in a small amount of vinegar, salt and sugar is a must when serving Nasi Minyak (basmathi rice cooked in saffron, ghee and evaporated milk). The cucumber adds crunchiness to the salad. Apart from that, it also reduces the richness of milk in the cooked rice.

For the Malays, cucumbers are a taboo during confinement. This is because cucumbers are believed to have a lot of moisture and will cool down the mother’s body. This will interfere with the production of milk for the baby’s consumption.

Cucumber is also an important ingredient in many types of laksa (local rice noodles) like Laksa Johor, Laksa Terengganu (Laksam), Laksa Penang and Laksa Kedah. The fleshy cucumber slices blends well with the rich and spicy gravy and rice noodles. Thus, the cucumber’s importance is not to be taken lightly.

Some farmers believe that cucumbers can become bitter if a snake crawls over it. We know that this is untrue. Some types of cucumbers which are small are only 6 cm in length. They are best eaten raw with sambal.

To remove the bitterness in cucumbers, first slice off about 1 cm from the stalk end. Then rub vigorously to bring out the white sap. Discard the cut slice and clean the cucumber thoroughly. A type of cucumber which has yellowish-brown skin and much larger than the green kind is also great cooked with fish in tamarind gravy. The flesh absorbs the sourness and remains crisp although boiled for a few minutes.

Since cucumbers are very cheap, it is also popular among the people living in small villagers. It is very versatile and can be eaten raw or as a healthy snack.

Cucumbers can reduce fever in a short time, also reduce high blood pressure and clean the kidneys. It is also a refreshing drink and if taken with celery and green apples, can become an anti-oxidant for the body.

Soalan Temubual :
What does being Malaysian mean to you?
It means being able to live harmoniously with friends from different races like Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, Sikhs and others. Since my mother is Chinese and my father, Javanese, I feel ‘completely at home’ and proud that I have many friends from all walks of life.

What is your favourite Malaysian food and why?
Rojak is my favourite as it has many types of raw vegetables like cucumbers and yam bean, blanched beansprouts, fried tofu - all favourites among the Chinese and Malay. The hot and spicy peanut sauce is typical of Indian heritage and signifies Rojak as an overall, wholesome dish.

What is the one thing which makes Malaysia stand out from the world?
Its cultural richness from the various races living together. Also the heritage of food (including Nyonya), dances (Chinese, Indian, Malay) and clothing. Malaysia has beautiful beaches and lots of interesting crafts. Also a colourful history especially in Melaka (Portuguese and Holland). We still preserve the good values from our ancestors.

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