A “thorny plant that grows beneath the waves, called How-the-Old-Man-Once-Again-Becomes-a-Young-Man” (Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet IX) bears little resemblance to our common cucumber, yet ancient people who first encountered it in the wild believed in its magical properties. Discovered and cultivated in ancient India about five millennia ago, humble cucumber found its way to Middle Eastern civilizations, as evidenced by its appearance in the Epic of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, universally considered the oldest surviving work of literature in the world.
Gilgamesh, pretty much a mythical character, was the first super-hero, predating Superman by three thousand years. He didn’t have kryptonite, but was born of a mixed marriage between a man and a goddess and somehow came out as two-thirds god and one-third man – go figure this out! Regardless, he had great power which he abused all over the place, raping any woman who caught his fancy and pressing his subjects into forced labor in order to build magnificent temple towers and impenetrable city walls. Eventually, the cries of his people reached gods who decided that Gilgamesh has grown a bit too large for his britches and needed someone to take him down a notch. So they created a wild guy called Enkidu and sat back to watch a good fight. Lacking television and social media, that was the ancient gods’ only means of entertainment – remember the Trojan war? Same idea.
Imagine the two of them: a great king, majestic demi-god in all his glory against the ancient version of Mowgli, suckled by the animals and grazing in meadows. Surprise! After a short, but spectacular fight, they become best friends, and when Enkidu, a mortal without a drop of divine blood in him, falls ill and dies, Gilgamesh becomes a basket case. His heart is shattered; overnight he transforms from a cruel despot into a wise king. Yet now he is mortally afraid of growing old, becoming ill, and dying. He is searching for immortality, or at least eternal youth. And that’s when, after all kinds of adventures, he acquires a miraculous plant that restores youth, a “thorny plant that grows beneath the waves, called How-the-Old-Man-Once-Again-Becomes-a-Young-Man,” which is none other that our friend the cucumber. In reality, as best as archeologists have figured it out by deciphering the stone tablets containing this story, King Gilgamesh of Uruk did have an extraordinarily long life; he eventually died at the age of 126. Perfectly understandable, since, according to the story, the magic cuke was eventually stolen from him.
Another cruel despot who believed in miraculous cucumbers stepped into historical arena unwillingly, with great trepidation. Tiberius, the second Roman Emperor, brilliantly portrayed by the late Peter o’Toole, insisted on being served cucumbers every day. Cucumbers were cultivated for medicinal purposes in Rome, used to produce more than 40 different remedies for a variety of maladies, from bad eyesight to infertility (http://www.vegetablefacts.net). Ravaged by venereal deceases, indulging in all kinds of depravity, Tiberius managed to live to a ripe old age of 77 and perhaps would have lasted even longer, had he not been smothered to death to clear the way to the throne to Caligula, his grandson by adoption, instead of Gemillus, his natural grandson. Infamous Caligula, brought to the screen by the immense talent of Malcolm MacDowell, has been branded the murderer, as it is shown in the movie, yet historians are not certain. One thing has been proven, though: miraculous cucumbers do not protect from assassins.
Latest studies show, however, that cucumbers have important health benefits:
I have tried several cucumber recipes offered by a great Russian chef and Youtube star Vasilij Emelyanenko, and they are all terrific, but my favorite is the one called Minute Cucumber.
As you see, it takes four ingredients, three steps, and one minute: slice a large firm cucumber, add roughly chopped dill and garlic, season with salt, cover, and shake for one minute. While you are shaking it, you might want to play hot Latin music, with lots of percussion, like this one:
Years ago, we found ourselves in the midst of a New Year celebration out on the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, much like the one you see in this clip. Every time when I shake-shake-shake One-minute Cucumbers, I am transported back to the ebullient excitement of that night. Having fun is another important health benefit of cucumbers, Beautiful People!
- 1 large firm cucumber, sliced thin in circles
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- Bunch of fresh dill including stems, roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- colorful peppers or tomatoes to garnish
- Combine all ingredients.
- Cover, shake vigorously for one minute.
- Garnish and serve
About the guest author:
Dolly Aizenman is the brainchild behind Kool Kosher Kitchen (Which her blog and her book are named after).
This charismatic Russian blogger is fond of cooking and writing.
She has a BA in Art and Music Education, MA in English, MS in Education and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.