Our friend Tony Chong contributes this article. Tony mans a mean barbecue and makes a curry so hot, grown men weep and his wife flees the kitchen–and his famous cucumber salad is delicious with both options.
I was never much of a cucumber fan growing up, so it is rather ironic that a salad based on cucumbers should become one of the most well-received and requested dishes I’ve ever made. But what’s not to like? The combination of tang and sweet with a touch of savory, mixed with the zesty crunch of the cucumbers, makes it a wonderfully light and refreshing counterpoint to just about any main course you can imagine.
Interestingly enough, a cucumber salad was not what I intended to make when I started out. I was originally trying to create a good tomato, red onion and cucumber salad, emphasis on the tomatoes and onions. While the various results were satisfactory, they never quite hit the full mark. The onions proved too strong for some people and the tomatoes tended to disappoint both in flavor and in texture. It quickly became clear that the one element that held up throughout all the variations were the cucumbers. So why not just do a good-parts version?
Inspiration was drawn from the marinated cucumbers adorning the house salad at Clancy’s Crab Broiler seafood restaurant inGlendale,CA. Of all the cucumbers I had tasted, those were the best. With that in mind, the quest was on to find the perfect combination of supplements for the featured ingredient. It took several tries, but the final results proved not only delicious, but allowed the cucumber to become the central feature of the dish, not a mere ornament to a standard lettuce-based salad.
While regular cucumbers will work, the salad is best made with extra-crispy Persians, which are the long, skinny, thin-skinned variant that show up in some local farmers markets. Happily Trader Joe’s carries them as well. The wrapped English hot-house cucumbers will work fine, too, but it is really the Persians you want.
With that said, the ingredients are:
- 4 cloves garlic, minced fine
- 3 stalks celery, chopped fine
- 12 small cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin
- 10-12 oz of seasoned rice vinegar (although garlic or plain will work fine) – enough to cover
- A dash or two or Lawry’s Savor Salt
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- Sugar to taste (more than you would think, but just this side of pucker)
Mix garlic, celery and cucumbers in a large serving bowl. Add Savor Salt, vinegar and oregano and stir. Add sugar slowly and taste; stop when you no longer pucker up! There should be just enough vinegar to cover cucumbers when they are pressed down (will create additional fluid as they marinate). Let stand in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. Serve chilled. Salad will last up to a week in the refrigerator in a sealed container.
And there you go; a little taste of spring that can be had year-round – at least in places that carry all the ingredients. By the way, they also make great cucumber tea sandwiches!
For this and other fun recipes, including some by regular host Laurie Perry, buy the Invenature Eats cookbook at: http://www.lulu.com/shop/tina-chong-and-and-friends/invenature-eats/paperback/product-6538060.html Available in both spiral-bound and electronic versions.