Often, I am impulse buyer when it comes to fruit and vegetables. That might be a problem – for my pocketbook and my refrigerator, except that I am usually attracted to great deals and generally have at least a vague idea of what I’ll make with my purchases. This week I found beautiful cucumbers at 3 for $1 and a huge bunch of dill for $1. Beat that Dollar Store!
Cucumbers are the basic ingredient of two of my favorite summer side dishes – cucumbers with vinegar and cucumbers and yogurt. These two dishes (or close approximations) go by a number of names. My mom used to call the first one “bread and butter pickles” and I’ve seen it referred to as “health salad.” The Indian version of cucumbers and yogurt is called raita, the Greek version is tzatziki and lots of other countries and regions have their own names for this dish. Whichever version you make and whatever you call these dishes, they are inexpensive, easy recipes to make and refreshing to eat.
I used dill and white pepper as the flavoring in both versions, but you can substitute other herbs and spices. For example, the vinegar version would be great with chives, in addition to, or instead of the dill. And the yogurt version is excellent with cumin or coriander added to the dill, or with fresh chopped mint instead. If you like garlic, both the vinegar and yogurt versions can be made with minced garlic.
As for ideas on what to use this salad with, try either version with fish or a Middle Eastern pita sandwich. Both are good with chicken plain or spicy and the vinegar version is nice with hamburgers. The yogurt and cucumber said salad is a staple at my house with chicken shish kebab and you can never go wrong with it as a “small plate” salad at a tapas-style meal.
Cucumber and rice wine vinegar salad – 2 servings (for more servings, simply increase the ingredients proportionally) Total cost – Barely over 50¢ per serving
- 1 ½ large or 3 small cucumbers
- 3 tablespoons of unseasoned rice wine vinegar (Rice wine vinegar is Asian. The seasoned type has added salt and sugar. Seasoned and unseasoned varieties are often sold side-by-side, so you have to read the label carefully to make sure you’ve got the unseasoned type. If you have plain white vinegar, that also works in this recipe, but not quite as well because the taste of white vinegar is little sharper than rice wine vinegar.)
- ¾ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon fresh dill, washed and chopped into small pieces
- white pepper (Finely ground white pepper will not stand out in these salads – regular, coarsely ground black pepper tastes fine, but looks like flecks of dirt if you’re sensitive to such aesthetics.)
- Cutting board
- Measuring spoons
- Colander (optional)
- Peel cucumbers and cut them in half.
- Remove seeds in each half by channeling out the middle section with a spoon.
- Hold each half lengthwise and make slices as thin as possible.
- Put the slices in bowl, add about 1 teaspoon of salt and let the mixture sit for at least 15 minutes to “sweat” the water out, before rinsing the cucumber slices several times to eliminate as much of the salt as possible.
You can rinse by adding water to the bowl and using your hand – or a plate – to hold the cucumber slices back as you tip the bowl into the sink to drain the water. Or you can use a colander to drain as you would for pasta, putting the cucumber slices in the colander and running water through them.
- Once the rinsing is complete – or during rinsing, squish the cucumber slices to further drain water out. (You washed your hands first, right?) The cucumber slices become more flexible and the volume of cucumbers in the bowl goes way down.
Now the cucumber is more concentrated and the sauce you put on won’t get watered down.
- Add rice wine vinegar, sugar, dill and white pepper.
Taste – adjust seasonings if necessary.
Cucumbers in yogurt – 2 servings (for more servings, simply increase the ingredients proportionally) Total cost – Less than 75¢ per serving
- 1 ½ large or 3 small cucumbers
- 8 ounces plain yogurt – I prefer Greek style or other naturally thick yogurt. Don’t use one with a thickening agent such as carrageenan. If your yogurt does not look thick, fold a paper towel in half in a colander on top of a bowl, add the yogurt and let it sit for 15 minutes. The water will drain into the bowl and the yogurt will be thicker.
After you pour out the water, and put the now-thick yogurt into bowl, wring out the towel in the sink and scrape the yummy yogurt that is left on the towel into the bowl with the rest of the yogurt.
- 2 teaspoons of chopped scallions, also known as green onions, green part only.
- 1 ½ teaspoon fresh dill, washed and chopped into small pieces
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
- white pepper (Finely ground white pepper will not stand out in these salads – regular, coarsely ground black pepper tastes fine, but looks like flecks of dirt if you’re sensitive to such aesthetics.
- The preparation of the cucumbers is the same as for the rice vinegar sauce recipe – peel, cut in half, scoop out middle, slice thin, salt, rinse with water, and squeeze the slices. (You have to love a recipe that calls for you to smoosh something like it was clay or mud – think pre-school or your favorite art class.)
- Chop the dill and scallions.
- Mix yogurt, dill, scallions, lemon juice and a dash of white pepper.
- Add the cucumbers to the yogurt mixture, stir and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Try this with the cous cous salad. They are a divine combination for lunch or dinner.