Not Your Run of the Mill Cucumber Salad

One of the hobbies I have is reading old cookbooks.  I have a review of a classic gem from the 19th Century by Mrs. Owens elsewhere on this site.  I find many interesting recipes and rediscover ideas and solutions to problems that have been long forgotten.  Although sometimes I laugh when I see them on “life hack” links on my social media.  Don’t know what I mean?  Like rubbing a walnut on scratched furniture to make the scratch less noticeable.  So as the cucumbers started filling out on the vines, and piling up at the markets, I went back to an old recipe that I adapted from The Searchlight Cookbook (mine is the 23rd edition, published in 1952). This is not your run of the mill cucumber salad that uses vinegar and onions.

I went back to the original recipe to see how many changes I made, and there were quite a few.  While I was looking through the book, I saw recipes for other cucumber dishes, including scalloped cucumbers and creamed cucumbers, both of which sounded rather unappealing.  But I realized that may be because the only cooked cucumber I ever ate was a pickle.  I might just have to try one of those recipes and get back to you next week. But for now, a really unusual side for a hot summer evening.

Cucumber and Cheese Salad

  • 2 medium cucumbers, cut length-wise, seeded and diced
  • ¾ C sharp cheddar cheese, cubed small
  • ¾ C diced celery
  • 1 C grated carrots
  • 1 sweet pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced (optional)
  • ¼ C  relish
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ to ½ C mayo or creamy dressing, such as the Cooked Dressing below
  1. In a colander, combine the cucumber, celery, carrots, pepper(s), and salt. Put a plate on top and weigh it down to press out some of the water. Let rest for about 20 minutes.  While you are waiting you can make the cooked dressing below.
  2. After 20 minutes, press out as much water as you can. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the cheese, relish and about ½ of dressing (you can use mayo or the dressing below). Toss to combine and evenly distribute the dressing.

Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

In addition to using this as a side, it makes a great stuffing for fresh tomatoes: cut the tops off and scoop out the seeds.  Fill the cavity with the salad.  A light refreshing lunch or dinner.

Cooked Dressing

(this is good on coleslaw, potato salad, cucumber salad, or a garden salad)

  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1/4 C melted butter
  • 1/2  C white vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • ¼ t paprika
  • 1 T arrowroot powder
  • 2 T honey
  1. In the top of a double boiler, or a metal bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT the honey, and mix until it is smooth.
  2. Place the metal bowl on top of a pot of simmering water, being sure that the water is not boiling up to the level of the bottom of the bowl. Stir constantly until it is thick and very smooth. This may take a few minutes.  Be patient.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Adjust for sweet and salt until you achieve the desired balance.
  4. Cool and transfer to a glass jar. Store in the refrigerator.

 

**If you are looking for some old standards as far as cucumber recipes, here are some links to pickles: your standard dills and garlic.

Living La Vita Locale: Vida Salad

Growing up, my grandmother made this concoction called Health Salad.  So, color me shocked one day in NYC, when I saw it at a deli.  I turned to my friend and said, “I thought my grandmother made that up!” Honestly, when I was younger I didn’t like it.  I didn’t really like anything that tasted cabbage-y, from coleslaw to cabbage borsht, although I have since changed my mind and will heartily dig into all things cabbage, from kraut to prakas (stuffed cabbage).  My husband jokes that the horseradish is the root of my people, and if that is the case, then the cabbage is the brassica of Everyman.  The ancient Greeks wrote about them, as well as the ancient Chinese.  From north to south and east to west, there are varieties of cabbage that are central to most major cuisines.  This humble green is packed with vitamins and minerals, grows well in poor conditions, keeps well through the winter, and along with the potato, probably kept a gazillion people alive during hard times.

After a time, my mother took up the mantle of making the health salad.  It was one of her contributions to every family dinner occasion, from Thanksgiving to Passover, my mom, Vida, made the Health Salad.  It was about this time of year a few years back, and I was putting away my share from the CSA when I realized that I had all of the ingredients to make Health Salad.  There was a head of cabbage in the fridge from the week before, and I had cucumbers, carrots, and the one pepper per share from that week.  I called my mom and asked for the recipe.  Since then I have tweaked it a bit, and since my mom likes these results better than hers, I feel good about renaming the recipe, Vida Salad.  Yes, after my mom, but her name means “lifetime” in Spanish, so “Lifetime Salad” — salad that will help you be healthy for a lifetime!

Vida Salad

Salad

  • 1 medium head of cabbage, quartered and cored
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 sweet pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1-2 T salt
  1. Put a large colander inside a bowl.
  2. Slice the cabbage quarters thinly, across the grain, so you have thin shreds (I usually do this on a mandoline).  Put them in the colander and sprinkle with 1 T salt. Toss to coat.
  3. Grate the cucumbers and carrots.  Add them to the colander and sprinkle with the remaining salt.
  4. Cut the pepper into strips and then cut across the strips to make small squares.  Add them to the colander.
  5. Using a plate that has a smaller circumference than the colander, weigh down the veggies to press out the excess water that the salt is drawing out. While you are waiting, make

The Dressing

  • 1/2 C Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 sugar or honey (but use a mild flavored honey)
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1/4 C coconut oil

Put all of the ingredients in a jar and shake until the sugar is dissolved.

6. Press out as much of the water as you can.  I take an extra step here and put the veggies in a towel and wring out as much water as I can.

7. Dump the water, and put the veggies in a bowl.  Add the dressing and mix thoroughly.  While you can eat this right away, the flavor definitely improves after a day or two in the fridge.

 

This is great as a side, on a burger or hot dog, or mixed with tuna.

Living La Vita Locale 7/1: Kirby Cucumbers

What’s new at the market this week? Kirby cucumbers (aka “Picklers”). And when I see little those little gems, I gear up to make pickles, especially a family favorite Kosher Dill.

I’ve already done a post about making garlic pickles that are lacto-fermented and taste like the pickles you get at the deli. In this post, I will talk about pickle-making in general and then give a recipe for a classic Kosher dill, similar in style to what you would get at the grocery store, only better because you made it yourself from ingredients you can pronounce.  It was a Blue Ribbon Winner at the Burlington County Farm Fair a few years back.

Some general hints:

  • Unless you pick the cucumbers yourself, you won’t know how long they have been off the vine. Therefore you should soak the cukes in an ice water bath for at least two hours or overnight in the fridge. This will revive them and lead to a crisper end result.
  • The use of a grape leaf or horseradish leaf is optional. If you are using them, they should be as fresh as possible. The leaves are high in tannins and also work to help improve the crispness of your end result.
  • Smaller cucumbers will result in crisper pickles.
  • Keeping the cucumbers whole will result in a crisper pickle. You can cut them into spears or rounds just before serving. Cutting the cucumbers and then pickling them usually results in a mushy pickle.
  • Do not substitute the long slicing cucumbers for the small picklers. They have less dense flesh and will not hold up to pickling.

 

Kosher Dills

About 10 small pickling cucumbers

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and pierced

Dill fronds, Dill heads (the flowers), or dill seed

Black peppercorns

5 C water

1 C white vinegar

1/3 C salt

 

  1. Boil the water, vinegar and salt for 5 minutes.
  2. Pack clean quarts jars by putting in a grape or horseradish leaf in the bottom along with the garlic clove and dill (you can use a combination if you want. If you are using seeds, about ¼ t per jar). Add the cucumbers, fitting in as many as you can without bruising the cukes on their way in. Pour hot brine over the cucumbers being sure to leave adequate head space. Add a little more dill on top if you are using fronds or heads. Put the lids on and process by hot water bath for 15 minutes.

BE SURE TO FOLLOW MANUFACTURER’S INSTRUCTIONS FOR JARS AND LIDS!

Too Many Slicing Cucumbers?

The slicing cucumbers are still coming in. Slicers usually aren’t much good for pickles, not even Bread and Butter. There is only so many cucumber salads a person can eat. How do I preserve slicing cucumbers? Relish, of course. This is my “hot dog” relish, but it is great on lots of things from bratwurst to grilled fish. This recipe makes about 4 pints.

  • 7 or 8 large slicing cucumbers, halved and seeded
  • 4 large sweet onions
  • ¼ C sea Salt
  • 3 C sugar
  • ½ C All-purpose flour
  • 1 t turmeric
  • 1 t ginger
  • ½ t celery seed
  • 3 C white vinegar
  • 1 C water
  1. Grate the cucumbers and onions. The food processor will make this go quickly. In a large bowl, combine the grated cukes and onions with the salt. Lest stand 12 hours (or overnight).
  2. The next morning, squeeze out as much water as possible (see Note below).
  3. In a heavy, non-reactive pot, begin to heat the vinegar and water over medium-high heat.
  4. In a bowl, thoroughly combine the sugar, flour, turmeric, ginger and celery seed.
  5. Whisk the dry ingredients into the vinegar mixture, being sure that there are no lumps.
  6. When the mixture is all smooth, stir in the cucumber/onion mixture.
  7. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 15 minutes, until thickened. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
  8. Ladle into prepared jars, and process 15 minutes for pints, 10 minutes for ½ pints.

Tomatoes, and Cukes, and Peppers! Oh My!

My garden overfloweth, for the most part.  I did have to pull my winter squashes (spaghetti, acorn and pumpkin) because of squash beetles.  They had the plants decimated in two days (both rainy, so I wasn’t out in the garden). I fed them to the chickens (HA! That’s what they get for attacking my squashes!).

But other plants are thriving, like tomatoes, and after a slow start, cucumbers  (The bunnies liked my cucumber sprouts, and kept eating them every time they popped up).

Some of my tomato plants are adopted from the Politics of Food project my class studies.  The Baker Creek Seed Company provides us with open-pollinated, heirloom seeds as a backbone to the horticultural facet of the project.  We emphasize to the students that they need to label their plants when they transplant them.  But as teenagers are teenagers (and know everything, so consult one before he realizes he doesn’t know everything), many plants did not get labeled.  Nor did students take them home because they couldn’t be sure which plants belonged them.  The end result?  I have a few “mystery” tomato and pepper plants.

One of the pepper plants turned out to be a Chinese 5-color pepper (very zippy), and one a mini-bell (they are very cute little peppers).  I have a tomato plant that has something that looks like eggs hanging from it (do those get red? I have no idea), and one that is so compact, it looks like a two foot tall shrubbery.

The rest of the tomatoes and peppers, and all of the cucumbers are from seeds I saved.  So between using compost (heavily influenced by chicken muck), saving seeds, and using seed starting equipment recycled from last year, my only financial outlay for the garden this year was seed starting medium.

How did I save seeds?

Peppers are easy.  Leave one pepper on the plant until it is super ripe and starts to get a little soft.  Cut the pepper in half, scoop out the seeds and let them dry.  Do not put them away until they are completely dry.  I wrapped different cultivars in pieces of paper and then put all of the pepper seeds in one big envelope.

The first year I tried to save cucumber and tomato seeds, I simply washed the seeds in  sieve and then let them dry on paper towels.  When I planted that set of seeds, I had about a 50% germination rate, which I thought was pretty good for a first try, and not knowing anything about seeds saving.

After doing some research, I found that I should have “fermented” the seeds in order to remove a naturally occurring enzyme that coats the seeds to prevent them from sprouting too soon.  My method is simple:

  • Designate one fruit from the plant to be the seeds fruit.  Know that once you designate a fruit to let go for seed, the plant will not produce a lot of other fruit as it will be putting its energy into that fruit. I usually mark it with a piece of yarn to remind myself not to pick it.  Leave it on the vine until it is fully ripe and a little soft.
  • Once you harvest the fruit, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds.  Put the seeds in a glass jar with a little water (non-chlorinated).
  • Leave the seeds until they start to get moldy.  It doesn’t smell good. You will know when they are ready, because the healthy seeds will fall to the bottom and the bad seeds will be at the top with the mold.
  • Scoop the mold and bad seeds off the top.
  • Empty the seeds into a sieve and rinse thoroughly.
  • Let dry on towels until they are completely dry (this may take a few days).
  • Store in a cool DRY place.

Good Luck!