Monday, July 25, 2011

Creamy Cucumber and Tomato Salad 101

From garden bounty . . . to kitchen bounty. Tomatoes and cukes by the dozen!

Why is it that the names of tomato varieties sound like the names of drinks in a bar? Consider these: Russian Black, Pink Lady, Big Boy, Brandywine, Green Zebra. Maybe it's a good thing great-tasting tomatoes are seasonal otherwise we'd all end up tomatoholics!

Even if you don't have a garden, cukes and tomatoes are at their peak this time of year and in abundance at farmers' markets. 

I peel my cukes. I find the skin "tough" and it doesn't quite match the soft texture of the other ingredients. Or you can peel in "strips" to create "stripes." If using sliced rings from a whole red or yellow onion, place in a sieve and run under hot water for a few minutes to remove the stringent onion taste. Personally, I prefer the taste and look of green onions.

Some people keep their cucumber slices whole and thin. I remove the gelatinous seed membrane which will prevent a watery salad.

Feel free to add other ingredients, such as avocado or add sweet cherry tomatoes, such as yellow or   purple to contrast with the rest of the salad. Skip the dill and add fresh basil or other herbs, such as a sprinkle or two of "fines herbes." It is really up to you what to add. It is versatile and forgiving. The trick is to get your "dressing" just right so that your family and guests enjoy it. Not too sweet; not too tangy.

Accompany with sides of crumbled cheese, such as Blue, Feta or mini Mozzarella balls.

Summer salads like this were common in the family fridge when I grew up. Or my mom would pick up a few at the grocery store deli. Today, sadly, few stores make their own. Of the half dozen major grocery stores within driving distance of me, only one prepares their own deli salads. I always buy something and thank them for taking time to keep the deli case freshly stocked.

Dill looks good in any mixed bouquet.

Similar summer recipes reinforce the importance of growing one's own herbs, especially in the garden-growing months, because they are practical and economical. A few long strands of fresh dill mixed with cut flowers is a great addition to any simple bouquet--or picnic gathering.

  • 1 lb. tomatoes, seeded and cut up (about 2 cups)
  • 2 lb. medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut up (about 4 cups)
  • 4 green onions, white and green parts (about 1/4 cup, cut)
  • 1 small-medium clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh-cut dill
  • 5 tablespoons sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar (optional) or cider vinegar or your choice. Go easy, start with 1/2 teaspoons.
  • Sugar, to taste (optional) 1-3 teaspoons, begin with less
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed 

Cut tomatoes in half. Squeeze out the seeds and cut into pieces. Peel cucumbers. Remove seeds with a spoon and cut up into random-sized pieces. Add to tomatoes. Sprinkle with the 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and mix through. Place in colander over a bowl or plate and allow to drain for at least 1/2 hour. This will prevent your salad from becoming watery.

Mix the mayo and sour cream. Add the garlic, dill, celery seed, vinegar, sugar. Taste. Add salt and pepper if needed.  Stir. Refrigerate until ready to use but taste yet again and pre-season if necessary.

Add drained cucumber and tomatoes in a shallow bowl. Add green onions. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a quality, and I emphasize quality, aged Balsamic vinegar, about 1/2-1 teaspoon. Mix through. Now add the sour cream dressing and toss to incorporate.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. 

Note: This is particularly good served over pulled bread from an artisan loaf or pieces of cornbread. The bread absorbs the wonderful juices. Serve as a side to grilled chicken breast or white fish.

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