Cool cucumbers add crunch to Northwest summer recipes

Fresh flavors are heart- and kidney-healthy too

Summer cucumbers add crunch and nutrients to any meal.

Summer gardens and farmers markets are overflowing with cool, crisp cucumbers. This mild vegetable is perfect for serving in a wide variety of tasty ways that can replace salty snacks.

Snack foods and dips are frequent culprits that can increase sodium in your diet, which can raise your blood pressure and strain your kidneys. Here are some mouthwatering ways to cut the salt and use this great summer veggie!

Use cucumber slices instead of salty crackers—just top them with your favorite cheese or low-salt spread. You can also follow the recipe below for tzatziki, a mild, refreshing cucumber dip you can use on pita bread, unsalted pita chips or baby carrots. Tzatziki is also delicious as a garnish for grilled meats and fish, or on a baked potato.

For pickle lovers, try making this salt-free alternative to add crunch and flavor to your sandwiches, salads or barbeque spreads.

Greek Tzatziki

1 large cucumber

1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried dill)

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 cups plain yogurt (soy yogurt also works)

Peel, seed and grate 1 large cucumber. Squeeze out as much water as you are able. (This does the same job as salting the cucumber, but without the salt! To make it easy, squeeze the grated cucumber inside a dishcloth or press down gently through a fine sieve.) Add the grated cucumber, chopped dill and crushed garlic to the yogurt. Chill it in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Nutrition information: Calories: 13, Carbohydrates: 1 g, Protein: 1 g, Sodium: 9 mg

No-Salt Refrigerator Pickles

8 pint jars or plastic containers

5 English cucumbers, sliced thin

1 bunch fresh dill, washed

2 cups white sugar

5 cups vinegar, red or white wine vinegar or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons dill weed

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons celery seed

½ teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon turmeric

Optional: cloves of garlic and red pepper flakes

Slice cucumbers and layer them in pint jars with fresh dill weed. In a pitcher, stir the sugar into the vinegar until dissolved. Add the remaining seasonings. Pour over the cucumbers. Put lids on the jars and store them in the refrigerator. These pickles will keep for up to 9 months in the refrigerator. For extra zing, add a clove of garlic to each jar, or some red pepper flakes to the spice mix. Makes 8 pint jars. One serving equals 1 pickle.

Nutrition information: Calories: 17, Carbohydrates: 4 g, Protein: 0 g, Sodium: 1 mg

The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The 2014 recipient of National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition’s Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.]