Thursday, September 10, 2009

Something Familiar

Sometimes I go back to the most obvious recipes because, well, they work! Time tested old favorites get tweaked over the years, but the basic classic combinations survive for a reason. I am thinking about salads right now. There is still some time left to enjoy the best of the farmer's markets and to eat it raw!

A cucumber grows at Hook Mountain

Cucumber salad is one of those dishes that doesn't get people too excited. And yet, and yet... the fresh clean crisp flavor definitely has a place at the table. I particularly like to serve it as a side with heavier dishes, anything with BBQ sauce for example. The cucumber becomes a great palate cleanser and counter point to thick spicy sauces in the summer. I am thinking of serving this with my friend, great cook and fellow blogger Katie Hoffman's Austin Baked Bean dish. I think she would approve. Her beans are another classic and familiar dish that maybe sounds old hat. But, when you make these dishes yourself from scratch you add your own preferences and flair. AND they are satisfying crowd pleasers. Now, who doesn't like to please a crowd?

I like to add feta cheese or ricotta salata to the cucumber salad for some tart creaminess. Onions and dill give the cukes a little backbone. This predictable dish still makes an impression and it wouldn't be (end of!) summer with out it.

Amanda, what would you serve with baked beans and cucumber salad? Now, there is a challenge! The beans are sweet and smoky and the cukes are cool and tart. I am imaging a late summer backyard party where the cooler air is starting to be felt.

Cucumber, Ricotta Salata and Dill Salad

2 Cucumbers
1/2 small white onion thinly sliced

2 Tbs chopped dill, plus a few sprigs for garnish
1 clove garlic finely minced
1 teas salt
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

4 oz *Ricotta Salata or feta cheese (use a block of feta cheese, not crumbled)
Ground pepper to taste

*Epicurious describes Ricotta Salata as "...a firm cheese with a mildly salty flavor. It's available at some supermarkets and specialty foods stores, and at Italian markets."

Peel the cukes lenghtwise in stripes so that some color from the skin is left on. Thinly slice the peeled cukes, using a mandolin if you have one, then set aside. Place the sliced onion in a bowl of cold water and allow them to soak for 10 minutes. This will keep the onions from completely wilting and will help remove some of the sharp flavor (I use this method whenever I am putting raw onions in a salad). Drain the onions and add them to the cucumbers.

Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl whisk together the dill, garlic, salt and vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the Olive oil as you continue to whisk. Pour vinaigrette over cumbers and toss to combine. Arrange on a serving plate and allow flavors to blend for half an hour. Before serving take a vegetable peeler and shave the cheese on top of the salad. Add a little freshly ground pepper to taste and garnish with the dill sprigs (fronds?).

Well, I have to say you could not have provided this recipe at a better time. Tomorrow is my neighborhood block party. The street is closed off, and our close-knit block spends the day barbequing in the street while the children ride their scooters, jump in a bouncy house, and run wild and barefoot through the neighborhood. Hot weather is predicted. Everyone brings something. Of course, I have volunteered to provide the adult libations. But I have been conflicted about what side dish to make. Now I have my answer! This is perfect! What's even better, I have the ideal wine in mind. Today I am in wine shop, working. Not my usual day. But momentarily we will be joined by winemaker Alexandra Schmedes of Bodega Mas Que Vino Ercavio to present her wines for our Saturday in-store tasting. I first met Alexandra in June, when I accompanied my friend and importer Katell Pleven (of Ibanez Pleven Offerings) to Spain. Alexandra makes ouststanding wines at everyday prices. One of the wines in today's in-store tasting is the Ercavio Blanco, a blend of Airen and a small percentage of Sauvignon Blanc. Airen is the dominant white grape grown in La Mancha and across Spain. Her wine is clean, fresh and crisp. Truly refreshing. The fruity aromas and bright acidity are a perfect match for the cucumber dish. And the pineapple and peach flavors can stand up to the bolder flavors of the beans. As for wanting to please a crowd - this is the perfect wine. I love to recommend it for large gatherings since its price tag is rather low at $11.99 a bottle. Alexandra makes a great Rose as well, which is meaty and substantial on the palate - also perfect for an (end of) summer barbeque and certainly can hold up to a variety of foods.


  1. I'm always looking for a good cuke recipe - my mainstay every summer is a spicy thai cucumber salad with fried shallots. I expanded this summer by juicing the cucumber for an exceptionally vibrant green juice and making a cocktail with lime, mint and vodka. Thanks for this other great recipe which I'll try this weekend!

  2. Yum Pam, that Thai salad sounds great. Sugar, Vinegar and chilies?
    The cocktail sounds good too. This summer I put mint in everything. It has gotten a little too late in the season to harvest it for pesto, but I will dry some and use in a quinoa tabouli.

  3. Just remember 'salata' means salted. The one time I had ricotta salata it struck me as overly salty. But then I'm not a big salt person. I would say to taste it before putting a lot into a dish.


Thank you for your comment. Spammers have forced me to now review every comment before publishing. So please bear with me as I read through your comment. Thank you for visiting the blog!