Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recipes of the month: two cucumber salads

Cucumber season is in full swing. We picked our first two cucumbers last week and enjoyed them in a couscous salad that I considered using as my Recipe of the Month for July, but since it was only a minor modification of a recipe we'd made before, I decided to wait for something that was truly new. So last night, when Brian brought in two big fat cucumbers fresh off the vine and asked what I'd like to do with them, I suggested serving them up in some sort of salad.

A search on "cucumber salad" turned up a wide assortment of choices at AllRecipes.com, but most of them called for other ingredients we didn't have on hand, like tomatoes (which aren't quite in season yet in our garden) or avocados (which we don't usually buy unless we need one for something specific). So we settled on a very basic one called "Mom's Cucumbers": thinly sliced cukes, salted until they wilt, tossed with onion and a simple dressing of water, sugar, vinegar, and celery seed. (Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of this one before we ate it all up.)

The result was pretty good; Brian thought it tasted a bit like a sweet pickle. But somewhere in the back of my head, I had this idea that at some point we'd made a cucumber salad that was even better—something with sesame oil. Where was that recipe? I had the notion that maybe it was in Vegetariana, so I checked there first. No dice. Then I went through the rest of our vegetarian cookbooks, from Mark Bittman to Molly Katzen. Nothing. So finally I concluded I'd just have to make it up myself.

We still had half a cucumber in the fridge, so I started by halving it and slicing it as thin as I could manage. I thought maybe cucumber by itself would be a little dull, so I sliced up part of a green pepper we had in the fridge into little matchsticks and tossed that in with the cukes. Then I started tossing together a dressing. The first cucumber salad we'd made used 1/4 cup of vinegar for 3 large cucumbers, so for the half cucumber I had left, I used just one tablespoon. Next I stirred in a teaspoon of sesame oil, which seemed like it would be enough to taste without adding too much fat. Finally, recalling that Mark Bittman's recipe for "Vastly Improved Ramen Noodles" uses a tablespoon of soy sauce to a teaspoon of sesame oil, I stirred that in as well, whisked it all together, and poured it over the cucumbers.

The result was close to what I'd had in mind, but the proportions seemed a little off. There was too much dressing for the amount of veggies, and the sesame flavor wasn't quite pronounced enough. Also, it seemed like the half-moon cucumber slices were a little too big to take the dressing well. And I thought red bell pepper would probably taste better than green, adding a hint of sweetness as well as a splash of color. So here's the way I intend to make it next time:
1 large cucumber, quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks (cut in half crosswise, then in thin strips lengthwise)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
Whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. Toss this dressing with the veggies, then sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
Of course, I haven't actually had a chance to try it this way yet, so it's still just a beta version. Brian thinks, for instance, that it could do with a touch of sugar or honey. But I expect that with only minor tweaking, it will become a good alternative to yet another jar of pickles for dealing with an abundant cucumber crop.
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