Ah, the nostalgic cucumber.
They always remind me of my childhood. Crunching through them, wet and sun-warmed right from the garden. Cold and crisp with dill and sour cream in my Mom’s salad. Moosewood’s cold cucumber soup. Mom’s gazpacho, Mom’s salad tossed with rice wine, salt, pepper and sugar, my Babci’s pickles.
This simple salad plays of their cool sweetness with fruity sweetness and a little heat. If you are serving the salad right away, just slice them in half rounds, toss them with the dressing and eat, but if you are going to hold the salad for a bit in the fridge or freezer, then remove the seeds before slicing the cuckes into thin crescents. The seeds hold much of the moisture in the cukes and this is an easy way to keep your salad from turning to soup.
How do you seed a cucumber? Easy! First peel it, cut off the ends, and then cut it in half lengthwise. Now scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon (the one from your flatware drawer, not the measuring spoon).
Finally, if you are holding the salad, then remember that it will release some moisture, diluting your dressing. Check the seasoning again right before serving.
Tropical Cucumber Salad
- 2-3 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced, about 3 cups
- 1 tbs chopped mint
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 2 tbs Tropical Spice Vinegar*
- 1/3 cup peanut oil
*If you or your family prefer less spicy food, try a lightly acidic, sweet vinegar like Champagne Mimosa or rice wine.
- Combine mint, shallot, sugar, Tropical Spice Vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl.
- Whisk in peanut oil in a thin stream. Dressing will become creamy.
- Dress cucumbers lightly, reserving extra dressing.
- Let salad rest for 5-10 minutes for flavors to develop. Check seasoning and add salt, pepper or additional dressing as needed.
*The cucumber will release some water while you let this rest. Season to taste right before serving. For a drier salad, lightly salt the cucumbers, drain in a colander for 15 minutes and pat dry.
With each new summer cookout, looms the threat that someone is going to show up with those clear plastic containers from the deli counter of potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw. Now, rumor has it that these salads actually contain potatoes, macaroni and cabbage, but the protective coating of mayonnaise obscures any possible proof.
Okay, that was a bit of hyperbole, but most summer cookouts abound with rich, grilled meats and sauces, toasted buns and baskets of chips and dip. What I want from my salad is something light and bright to balance the plate, and a gloopy heap of mayonnaise just doesn’t cut it. Enter the “French” potato salad.
Like may other American “French” delicacies like fries, toast and dressing, I’m not sure how french this is, but I think they would approve. Boiled potatoes are tossed, still warm, in a sharp, buttery vinaigrette, with garlic or shallots and fresh herbs. They soak up the dressing and releasing the flavorful oils from the greens; exactly what you want sitting next to your burger, hanger steak or chicken thighs, complete with flawless grill marks.
This is a recipe I served at Eastern Market recently, but experiment throughout the summer. Toss with halved cherry tomatoes and basil, use fresh tasting tarragon and shallots, baby arugula or minced red peppers. But please, I’ll take my potato salad without mayonnaise. and I like my burgers rare.
French Potato Salad with Mint and Garlic Scapes
- 4 cups small potatoes
- 3 tbs mint
- 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic scapes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup Koroneiko Olive Oil*
*More magical ingredients from Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Champagne or white wine vinegar can replace the Champagne Mimosa. The Koroneiko Olive Oil is Greek. Mild and grassy. Substitute another high-quality olive oil.
- Boil potatoes in salted water until still firm but can be easily pierced through to the center with the tip of a knife. Drain potatoes.
- Meanwhile, mince garlic and mash it into a paste with coarse sea salt. Whisk with Champagne Mimosa Vinegar. Season with pepper. Set aside.
- Mix mint and garlic scapes in a salad bowl.
- Cut warm potatoes in 1” pieces – halved or quartered – and toss with mint and garlic scapes. The heat will release oils in the mint.
- Whisk oil into vinegar mixture in a steady stream until creamy. Toss with potatoes. Dress lightly so not to overpower the other flavors.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional mint.
Gardeners, cooks and farmers share a unique awareness of the changing of the seasons. Crocus and radishes give way to irises and asparagus. Early summers pinks, blues, English peas and sweet cherries change to late summer yellows and oranges, summer squash, sweet corn and tomatoes.
The seasons are changing right now. Farmers at the Market admonish us to enjoy the spring’s last rhubarb and asparagus, while filling the gap with the year’s first tomatoes and squash, helped along with early season cover. They taste richly of the soil they’re grown in, but not yet sweet from the summer sun.
Seasons of eating start with hunger, built over months of waiting. That first spear of asparagus or first ripe tomato is wonderful eaten raw and fresh. Over a six to eight week season your recipes progress from old favorites to new experiments. Finally, when you think you can’t eat another zucchini or ear of corn, they are gone until next year.
Here, then is a celebration of the passing of asparagus. It’s been a wonderful spring for it, although May’s heat led many farmers to end their harvest earlier than usual. Enjoy this salad, simple and fresh, elegant enough for fine dining, quick enough for a Tuesday supper. Until next year.
Asparagus Mimosa Salad
The name of this salad refers to the similarity in appearance between the grated egg and the foamy yellow/white flowers of the Mimosa tree.
- 2 eggs, hardboiled
- 1 pound asparagus
- 2-3 radishes, cut in matchsticks
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa vinegar*
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 3/4 cup Olive oil – the good stuff!
*Another treat from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. You can substitute champagne or a tarragon,white wine vinegar.
- Begin vinaigrette: whisk together shallot, vinegar,mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Peel and finely grate the hardboiled eggs. Set aside. You won’t be able to get the entire egg grated. Pop the larger, leftover pieces in your mouth.
- For a special presentation, line up your asparagus spears and cut them to fit the plates you will be serving this salad on.
- Blanch asparagus in a large boiling pot of salted water for approximately 3 minutes, until crisp tender. Shock in an ice bath.
- Complete vinaigrette by whisking in olive oil in a thin stream. Taste vinaigrette with an asparagus stalk and season to taste with additional salt pepper, oil or vinegar.
- Place asparagus stalks on individual plates, drizzle with vinaigrette, top with radish and egg.
*Thomas Keller takes the tender ends of the asparagus, left over when you trim the spears to the size of your salad plates, and blanches them for about five minutes. Shock them in an ice bath, then puree them in a blender with a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. That’s the green sauce you see on the bottom in the photograph.
At Easter brunch I was speaking with my friend Amy about the live cooking demos I give at Eastern Market each Saturday. She said, “I love it! I always go to my local farmers market and have no idea what to do with the beautiful food there.” I have the same problem.
Each week I talk to the farmers at the Market and ask “what’s going to be at its prime for next weekend?” I head home with bags of food to think and study. I’ll read through recipes in four or five cook books, search on line and wait for inspiration to hit. What flavor combinations sound most exciting with this ingredient? Are there other fresh ingredients I can use? And, what will be relatively quick and easy?
Some weekends, you walk through the market and the produce just speaks to you. Fresh, young, early season arugula that isn’t too peppery yet. The temptation of early season tomatoes that you know could use a little flavor boost, and a wonderful new fresh tomato infused olive oil that I was introduced to by the folks at Sapore, the new olive oil and vinegar store near the Market. The oil takes April tomatoes and makes them taste like July.
Sometimes the ingredients just come together. And it’s truly magic.
The secret to this rich, bright tomatoey dressing is a combination of grated tomato pulp and the fresh tomato infused olive oil from Sapore*.
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 clove garlic
- 3-4 large basil leaves, cut in thin ribbons
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup Ripe Tomato infused Olive Oil, or other high quality olive oil
- Cut tomato in half, scoop out seeds with your fingers and grate, cut side in, on a box grater. The skin will protect your hand from the sharp grate.
- Mash together garlic with a pinch of salt using the flat side of the knife or the tines of a fork. Sharp, hard crystals of sea salt help shred the garlic.
- Whisk together garlic paste, 1/4 – 1/3 cup tomato pulp, basil and vinegar. Season with black pepper.
- Whisk in olive oil in a thin stream until thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt pepper and more vinegar or oil as desired.
*”You want me to buy an entire bottle of olive oil for one recipe?” Absolutely! First, this dressing is delicious and you’ll make it again and again. Secondly, you’ll want leftover oil to drizzle over your early or late season tomato sauces to give them fresh, summer flavor.
Celery root is a disturbingly ugly vegetable with tan skin and a gnarly, knobby top. Once the top is cut away and the skin peeled, it reveals creamy, slightly starchy flesh, with the sharp, but delicate flavor of celery. It is generally served roasted, braised or boiled – mostly in purées and soups, like this one that I served at Eastern Market last fall.
Last week, Dan from Agora Farms suggested trying it raw in a coleslaw with poppyseed dressing. I never turn down the advice of someone who knows his produce well enough to check the pH of a melon to see if it’s at the perfect stage of ripeness, so I headed into the kitchen.
The shredded celery root was delicate and easily overpowered by other flavors. Researching poppyseed dressings, I discovered two types: oil-based and mayonnaise or yogurt-based. The lighter-flavored, oil-based option was definitely the right choice. They also contain a lot of sugar, which again sounded overpowering. The milder sweetness and floral notes of honey seemed a better choice, and played perfectly with the herbal flavor of the celery root.
The finished product was fantastic. Definitely a keeper. And remember, Dan gives good advice. In fact, his whole team does. Ask for some this weekend.
Celery Root Slaw
The texture of the raw celery root is a bit grainy when you first prepare it. Give this dish a little time to come together in the fridge – at least a half hour. It is even better made a day ahead.
- 3 tbs grated onion
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika
- 1 tsp poppy seeds
- 1-2 tbs honey
- 1/4 cup Sherry vinegar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil*
- 2 cups grated celery root
- 1 tbs chopped fennel fronds or tarragon
- 1 tbs chopped parsley
- Begin dressing: Whisk together onion, mustard, paprika, poppy seeds, honey, vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Toss together celery root, parsley, and fennel fronds or tarragon in a medium bowl.
- Finish dressing: whisk in oil in a thin, steady stream. It will form a creamy emulsion. Season to taste with salt, and pepper. Adjust vinegar and honey to achieve desired sweetness/acidity.
- Toss salad with a couple tablespoons of dressing. Add more to taste. The celery root is distinct, but mild and you don’t want to cover up the flavor. Let rest for thirty minutes before serving.
* “Why not olive oil?” you ask, with the derisive scorn we all reserve for evil oils that come in large, plastic bottles. Olive oil is a powerful flavor. Vegetable oil is fairly neutral. Grape seed oil is neutral as well, and would be a great alternative.
Thanks for asking.
Fennel has a light anise flavor that just tastes so darn fresh. Add crisp sweet apple and sharp radish. Toss with a tart, buttery lemon vinaigrette warmed with floral coriander. It’s a light start to a heavy meal. A bright compliment to a richly sauced main of chicken or pork. It’s an indulgent brunch paired with farm-fresh eggs and good bread spread with rich butter.
Fennel and Apple Salad
Dress this salad lightly to keep the flavors balanced.
- 1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 apple, julienned
- 3-4 radishes, julienned
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- Olive oil – the good stuff!
- Mix together shallot, lemon juice, coriander and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Toss fennel, apple, radishes and parsley in a large bowl.
- In a steady stream, whisk olive oil into the lemon juice, shallot mixture.
- Lightly dress the salad to taste. Add an extra squeeze of lemon juice or pinch of salt if needed.
I don’t remember what cookbook this was inspired by, but it remains one of the bright moments in a wonderful weekend six years ago. It had been a long winter at work and I needed to recharge. My friend Cliff and I jumped in the car and headed to his home near the coast in Delaware for a weekend of cooking.
Friday night after leaving the city, we grabbed dinner on the road, and arrived for an evening spent pouring through cook books over several bottles of wine. With our menu planned – a random collection of things that sounded delicious and fun – we went to bed.
The rest of the weekend was pure joy and relaxation. Lazy hours combing stores for the perfect ingredients, a quick stop at a cooking store for a new tool or two, and many hours in the kitchen, prepping, peeling, chopping and cooking. We would talk through the perfect plating for each dish and eat them, one-by-one, as they were finished.
The weekend was just two days – we drove home Sunday night – but it seemed like a month. I still remember waking up to see the sun shining through the fields out back, ready for spring planting. Hot cups of coffee in the cold morning kitchen. A lot of laughter, and good food.
Shaved Fennel, Mushroom and Parmesan Salad
Get your mandoline out for this one. While you can make a perfectly serviceable salad with some deft knife work, there is a delicate texture and light balance that can only be achieved by slicing the ingredients paper thin.
Two of us devoured this last Sunday night, but it would easily serve four as a side or first course.
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup lemon juice – about 1 lemon
- Olive oil – the good stuff!
- 1 fennel bulb, tops removed, greens reserved.
- 6 large white button mushrooms
- 2-3 ounces great quality parmesan cheese
- Start the dressing: mix the shallot in a bowl with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Set aside.
- Cut the fennel bulb in half, cutting from top to bottom. Remove the tough core at the base.
- Slice the tough bases off the mushroom stems.
- Using your mandolin, shave the fennel and mushrooms paper thin. For the fennel, shave the bulb from top to bottom, not sideways. For the mushrooms, slice sideways, so you get cross sections of the mushrooms.
- Using a vegetable peeler, peel the Parmesan into thin shavings.
- Chop some of the reserved fennel fronds – the fine, green bits – and toss one tablespoonful with the fennel ,mushroom and parmesan.
- Finish the dressing by whisking olive oil in a gentle stream. About 1/2 cup. Taste it along the way by dipping in a little fennel and mushroom. If it is too sharp, add a little more oil, if it gets too fatty, add a little more lemon juice.
- Serve mounded on a plate, garnished with a small spring of fennel fronds.