Spring into a crunchy cucumber salad

Frank on food

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FRANK CHLUMSKY

I couldn't be more surprised. Every year, for as long as I can remember, cravings for such harbingers of spring as asparagus and Vidalia onions emerge and seem to dominate my every thought at almost every meal.

Indeed, the longing and anticipation I have for these two vegetables even overshadow my desire for homegrown tomatoes. That's a yearning I'm sure will surface soon. But this spring it's something new that I crave and it's a vegetable that I've long taken for granted. Once again I'm reminded of that wonderful Latin phrase, "De gustibus non est disputandum:" There's no accounting for taste.

It all started a couple of weeks ago at a family gathering. The weather showed the promise of a much awaited spring, and my hearty appetite anticipated the beautiful mixed green salad that was placed at the center of the table. It was a spectacular salad, laden with (among other things) thick slices of crisp, crunchy cucumbers, with a cool, refreshing taste that I can't stop thinking about. Cucumbers, oh yeah!

Cucumbers have been around for thousands of years and are widely prized throughout the world. They can be cooked or stuffed as a vegetable or pickled as a condiment, but more frequently they're served in or as a salad. This cucumber salad is my favorite.

Incidentally, the salad I had at that family gathering also included tomato wedges (remarkably unremarkable) as well as a South American variety of sweet onion (remarkably not Vidalia), which reminds me that it's a good time to pay my yearly respect to President Jimmy Carter for introducing the nation to these still much awaited onions.

But right now, it's cucumbers. Oh yeah!

Serves six to eight

3 cucumbers

1 tablespoon kosher salt

4 tablespoons sour cream or yogurt

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 tablespoons peanut (or other vegetable) oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Peel the cucumbers with a vegetable peeler.

Cut them in halves lengthwise.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds.

Slice the halves into thin slices, 1/8- or 1/4-inch thick.

Place the slices in a colander set in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with the salt.

Mix well and place a plate on top of the cucumbers.

Place a weight on top of the plate. (I use a large can of fruit juice.)

Let the cucumbers set at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Rinse the cucumber slices under cold running water.

Press lightly to squeeze out excess
moisture.

Combine the sour cream, lemon juice and white pepper in a mixing bowl.

Add the peanut oil, beating well with a fork or wire whisk.

Combine the cucumber slices with the sour cream dressing.

Add the chopped fresh dill and serve. They also will keep, crisp and crunchy, for several days in the refrigerator.

The most important step in this recipe is to macerate the cucumbers in the salt, which draws the juices from the cucumber. This makes the slices quite limp, but at the same time, very crunchy.

It's not necessary to peel the cucumbers (if they aren't waxed), but I still prefer them peeled.

English "hothouse" or so-called "burpless" cucumbers are a superior variety and do not have to be seeded. They're also more
expensive.

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