Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Simple Fresh Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad served with a light lunch
As a kid, vegetables of any kind (even ones that were actually a fruit...) were a hard sell. There were few that I would eat, and it was nearly impossible to convince me otherwise, unless you dumped a gallon of cheese sauce on it. I also came from a family that always had a backyard garden- so we typically had fresh cucumbers (among other things- I would actually pick and eat string beans raw even though I only tolerated them cooked). My mom used to cut up the cucumbers and make a very simple salad from them, that I actually liked. A big part of that was the fact that the cucumbers were typically picked about 60 seconds before being served- even kids can tell the difference between fresh, quality produce, and the cheap stuff that's been sitting around too long.  Here's my take on Mom's simple cucumber salad...

To start, you need a cucumber.  The fresher the better. Get the best, most fresh cucumber you can find- you'll need one or two medium to large cucumbers, depending on how many servings you need. Hopefully, you have a garden with your own cucumbers growing- because this works best if you pick it as soon as you're ready to start making the dish. I cheated a little- I actually picked this one the day before, but it's still a whole world fresher than anything you'll find in the grocery store.

I personally don't have a problem leaving the skins on, but some people do. I'm going to peel mine just because that's the way Mom did it. Save the peels though- if you have a small pet such as a rabbit or guinea pig, they will be more than happy to munch on them. If you have a garden, save the peels and toss them on your compost pile so they can become next year's fertilizer. If your cucumber(s) are particularly thick, like mine, cut it longways, then cut each half longways again before slicing, then cut it up into medium thick slices- about 1/4 inch think.

You've just completed the majority of the work to be done. The trick to this salad is it's simplicity- take a good quality, fresh ingredient, and don't mess it up by doing too much it it. Transfer your cucumber pieces to a bowl and add about two heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise. You may need more or less depending on how much cucumber you start with - it's easier to start with too little and add more later, so be conservative here. In the end, you want a thin coating of mayo on the cucumber- it will mix with the water from the cucumber itself and thin out a little- so what seems like a small amount will go a long way. While you're at it, season lightly with a dash of salt and pepper.

This is about as far as mom would go, she kept it ultra simple, and it just worked. I'm going to take things a little further, but we'll use a light hand with the remaining seasonings- the cucumber should be the star, this stuff is just the background music. Dill is a natural companion to cucumbers- a flavor normally associated with dill pickles. I'll use a pinch or two of dill weed here just for a little boost. Likewise, I'll add a few pinches of turmeric- a seasoning also associated with pickling, and a flavor that I just think goes well with mayonnaise in general. I'll also ass a very tiny pinch of cayenne pepper, just to wake things up a little- a tiny amount just enough to be felt, but not be very noticeable. That's the whole idea of this stage, just add a few little bumps and nudges of flavor.

Mix your cucumber and the mayonnaise dressing thoroughly- you want all the flavors to combine, and form a thin coating on all of your cucumber pieces. Make sure you get the seasonings mixed well. The mayo will combine with the liquid from the cucumber and come to a thinner consistency like a light salad dressing (which it is). If you serve your salad right away, you'll get a nice fresh crunch from the cucumber. If you cover it and let it sit in the refrigerator for a half hour or more, the cucumbers will lose some of their crunch, but they will marinade in the dressing more, and develop more flavor, much like a pickle will. Either way, it's an excellent hot summer afternoon dish. It has a refreshing crunch, and is light and fresh. It works well as a side for almost anything- even a simple light lunch of a sandwich and a handful of chips.

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