Poona Kheera cucumbers are short and thick fruits, averaging 15 to 22 centimeters in length and 7 to 10 centimeters in diameter, and have an oblong, cylindrical shape with rounded ends. The skin transitions through many colors as it ripens, beginning white, smooth, and thin when young, turning golden-yellow, and finally maturing into a brown, cracked, and russeted surface. Underneath the skin, the flesh ranges from pale green to white, depending on maturity, and is crisp, firm, and aqueous. There are also 2 to 3 central chambers filled with many oblong and flat, cream-colored seeds suspended in a slippery, viscous liquid. Poona Kheera cucumbers vary in flavor, depending on age, and are generally crunchy with a savory, tangy, and subtly salty, vegetal taste.
Poona Kheera cucumbers are available in the summer through fall.
Poona Kheera cucumbers, botanically classified as Cucumis sativus, are a rare heirloom variety belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. The word Kheera translates from Hindi to mean “cucumber,” and Poona is the city from which the variety originated in India. Poona Kheera cucumbers are widely used in Indian cuisine as a cooling element to balance spicy and sour flavors. The cucumbers are unique from other varieties as they can be used at any stage of maturity. In India, the variety is traditionally sold when it is young with tender, yellow skin, but Poona Kheera cucumbers can also be harvested when they are mature, displaying a russeted, tough brown skin. Poona Kheera cucumbers are easily found in local markets across India, but outside of the country, the variety is considered rare and is primarily cultivated through specialty growers and in home gardens.
Poona Kheera cucumbers are an excellent source of potassium, which is an electrolyte that can help maintain body fluids and lower blood pressure. The cucumbers also contain vitamins A and C, which can help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation, and provide some minerals such as magnesium, manganese, iron, and phosphorus.
Poona Kheera cucumbers can be utilized at any stage of maturity and offer varying textures and flavors, suited for both raw and cooked applications. It is important to note that if the flesh contains a subtly bitter taste when mature, the stem end can be removed and rubbed against the exposed flesh, creating a foam-like reaction. This technique has been used for centuries to help reduce any bitter flavor. When fresh, the cucumbers can be sliced and consumed straight, out-of-hand, sometimes sprinkled with salt, or they can be chopped and tossed into green salads, layered onto sandwiches, or diced into slaws with herbs and spices. In India, Poona Kheera cucumbers are frequently used fresh in raita, which are chopped cucumbers mixed with cilantro, yogurt, green onions, and other spices to create a cleansing side dish. They are also infused into water or juiced as a refreshing drink sold through local street vendors in hot climates. Beyond fresh applications, Poona Kheera cucumbers can also be lightly stir-fried with other vegetables, sliced and grilled for a smoky flavor, or incorporated into curries for added crunch. The cucumbers hold their shape well when cooked and readily absorb flavors allowing for sauces to be evenly distributed through dishes. They can also be pickled for extended use. Poona Kheera cucumbers pair well with tomatoes, peppers, aromatics such as onions, shallots, and garlic, herbs such as cilantro, dill, parsley, thyme, basil, and mint, spices such as cumin, black pepper, mustard seeds, and turmeric, peanuts, hazelnuts, and fruits such as coconut, watermelons, citrus, and plums. The cucumbers will keep up to three weeks when stored in a cool and dark place.
In India, Poona Kheera cucumbers are popularly incorporated into Krishna Janmashtami festivities in the late summer. The annual celebration is held in honor of the birth of Lord Krishna, who is considered to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. During the festival, cucumbers are utilized as decorations, displayed around houses, and are brought to the temples and placed on the altars as a form of worship. Poona Kheera cucumbers are also occasionally used in chappan bhog, which is an offering dedicated to Krishna at the end of his birthday after the ritual, day-long fast has been completed. Chappan bhog translates to mean fifty-six food items and is recognized as an elaborate offering served out of gratitude for Krishna. Cucumbers are used in these offerings as they are seen as an ingredient to restore balance to the body. In Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient medicinal system practiced in India, cucumbers reduce heat or pitta from the body and can help increase the liquids or dosa, creating a healthy balance during the warm summer months.
Poona Kheera cucumbers are native to Pune, also known as Poonah, which is the second-largest city in the state of Maharashtra, India. The variety has been cultivated since ancient times and is highly favored for use in culinary applications and religious practices. Today Poona Kheera cucumbers are still widely grown in Pune and are found across India, sold through fresh markets, street vendors, and roadside stands. Outside of India, the heirloom cucumbers are sold at farmer’s markets in Europe, Asia, and North America. Poona Kheera cucumbers are also sold through online seed retailers for home garden use.