Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cucumber Salad: an easy and delicious accompaniment for summer meals

First off, allow me to apologize for being silent for so long. I have a very good excuse: a deadline for one of my crime novels (The Boom Room) has been staring me in the face, and it was time to chain myself to the computer or disappear upstairs with my journal in order to get the damn thing written. It’s now nearly there, so I’m sparing a few moments to share a recipe with you, something I’m sure you’ll enjoy when the summer heat starts bearing down on you.

Who wants to spend days in a hot kitchen when the outside weather is hot and fine? I sure don’t, especially since ours isn’t air conditioned. Around May and June every year, we spend a lot of time thinking about no fuss, quick and tasty dishes to make when the weather makes indoor cooking seem rather unattractive. Today I’m going to share one of our best in this category with readers of AMFAS.

Cucumbers are a cooling vegetable to eat, but they’ve got two drawbacks to my mind. First, they contain a lot of water which they tend to shed copiously when there’s salt anywhere nearby. Second, unless you have very fresh cukes, they don’t have a heck of a lot of flavor on their own. You need some other tasty ingredients to help out.

On the plus side, cukes are very low in calories. If you’re the gardening type, they also have another benefit, since they’re dirt simple to grow – assuming they’re not attacked by cucumber beetles.

So, to my mind, if you can combine great taste with low calories, you have the best of two worlds. And since cucumbers really aren’t the sort of things you cook, they can be really lovely to prepare during the summer when they’re especially fresh and inexpensive.

We looked high and low for a good recipe. Certainly there’s no lack of cucumber salad recipes in our cookbooks and out there on the internet. A lot of them can be struck off because they just pile on the fat with lots of sour cream or mayonnaise, two traditional dressing ingredients. Including fresh dill was a must for us, and something more than the usual white vinegar was definitely wanted.

Here’s what Vicki and I came up with. If you have a mandolin (the cooking kind, not the playing kind), this recipe is a snap to make. The actual work can be accomplished in under ten minutes, and the time involved for our recipe is to let the ingredients sit and do their thing.

Try it and be sure to let me know how you like it!

By the way, if you like schnitzel (in all its forms) as much as we do, cucumber salad is a traditional accompaniment for it and this recipe is perfect.

Summer Cucumber Salad
Serves 4

4 cups English cucumber (the really long ones), peeled and very thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups red onion, very thinly sliced
2 Tbs white balsamic vinegar (highly recommended), white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
4 Tbs low-fat sour cream
1/4 tsp sugar (a bit more if you don’t use white balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
1-2 Tbs dill, freshly chopped
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

1. Place sliced cucumbers in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Toss a bit and let drain for 1/2 hour. (The cukes will throw off water and make the salad less runny.) Use a tea towel to pat the slices thoroughly dry.

2. Place the cucumbers in a bowl with the red onion.

3. In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar or lemon juice, sour cream, sugar, Tabasco, and dill, then toss the dressing with the salad.

4. Chill the salad (covered) in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Check for salt and season with lots of pepper.

This salad is best served the day it’s made.

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