A week ago, I think I was talking to Lis’Anne about doing another article, and at that time she cued me (oh yes, Lis’Anne, I know you deliberately did this!) to do something that wasn’t impossible-to-find meat related (I have a rabbit stew just waiting to be written up, folks!)
So I thought about it for a little while (all right… it was only a couple of seconds… I thought about what I had in my refrigerator and went from there) and decided I’d delve into the dank, mystical corridors of the cucumber salad.
Now, I’ve always loved this salad. It’s a refreshing dish that is light and palate cleansing. I’ve only seen it done in one restaurant, namely the California Grill on top of the Contemporary Hotel on the Walt Disney World property, overlooking the Magic Kingdom. The salad is usually served with one or two of the most excellent sushi dishes prepared by Yoshi… I wish I had a picture of it somewhere in my archives, but… oh wait! There it is!
The cucumber salad is at the back of the plate, with the little flower on top of it. The rest of the dish is a spicy kazan roll in the back right, which has cooked scallops piled up in the center, then through the middle of the plate is a tempura bonsai roll. There’s also a nice (I’ve come to adore it) seaweed salad on the right hand side of the plate topped with another flower.
(Oh, and just for the record… I also covet the glassware in the back right of that picture… they’re square glasses, with a very thin drinking edge… it just feels RIGHT!)
So, that’s what I’m going to be working on here… but first, some history! (Cue the hisses and boos from the audience.)
This is actually a salad that my mother’s been making ever since I’ve been able to put down solid food. Really, I think it’s a salad that she makes when she gets a bit lazy and doesn’t want to do up a full salad to accompany the evening meal, but there’s also some amount of taste matching involved… this salad really does go with certain meals that my mom makes (but for the life of me I can’t remember or identify at this time.)
OK, on with the salad…
1 or 2 cucumbers (1 is enough for two people, I feel… maybe three if portions are smaller.)
Rice wine vinegar
Ground black pepper
Yes, really… that’s all that you need ingredient-wise.
Peel the cucumber, either with a standard peeler or a sharp knife. If you want to leave a very thin strip of actual peel down the sides of the cucumber like small stripes, that’s fine. I didn’t in this case, but the next time I do it I probably will… it gives the slices of cucumber more stability.
If you don’t have a mandolin slicer, the next best thing would be a large square grater that you can get from the supermarket for about a buck ninety-nine. On one side there’s usually a slicer set that can be used for this.
If you don’t have one of those around, and you’re not willing to pick one up when you buy your ingredients, then really your only option is a good kitchen knife. It’s possible to thinly slice a cucumber with a good sharp kitchen knife. You do keep your knives sharpened, right?
So, you have all of these nice thinly sliced bits of cucumber, which you need to throw into that bowl. The next thing to do is to add the rice wine vinegar and pepper. The goal with the vinegar is to get a good coating on the cucumber. You’ll want to actually go a bit more than you think you should because the cucumber will soak some of it up, and when you serve it the vinegar will sit in the serving bowl, not in the salad bowl.
Now seal that bowl up and give it a good shake. Upside down and side to side, anything to get that vinegar coating everything.
Finally, and this is key… LET IT REST! Put it in the refrigerator and let it rest for a good half hour, at least. Since the only thing here is vinegar, letting it rest longer is just fine, and it’ll keep quite well… I very often let it sit in the fridge over-night so that the vinegar really permeates the cucumber.
When you’re ready to serve, simply pull out the bowl, use tongs and put an appropriate amount in a salad bowl. If you want to get fancy, you can do what Yoshi did up there in that first picture.
What’s your favorite summer salad? Have you hit your local farmers market lately?