Cucumber Salad

If you’re anything like me, the presence of a large bowl of cucumbers and onions dressed with vinegar and perhaps a IMG_0205little sugar or salt is a sure sign of a well-balanced summer meal.  As long as there’s a platter of sliced tomatoes, some well-buttered ears of corn, and cold hunks of melon to look forward to, it’s a warm weather feast worthy of any country table and any country appetite.

But that bowl of pale green and white has a special place in my heart because it represents some pretty sensible kitchen magic.

The cucumber itself is the perfect summer food because it is truly cool – its interior is about 20 degrees cooler than its surface.  That relates to the fact that the vegetable is 96% water and wears a well-insulated jacket in a fashionable shade of green.  What makes the summer table work so well is the presence of lots of moisture, and cucumbers, like much good, fresh produce, is bursting with hydration.

cuke salad ingredientsWith all that goodness going on, you wonder why on earth you’d want to cover it up with any dressing at all?  But the cucumber salad takes on an additional level of brilliance for the summer table precisely because of that dressing and its slightly sour disposition.

Vinegar’s acidity commends it to the summer diet because of its refreshing quality.  What, you don’t think of vinegar as refreshing?  Perhaps you’d prefer a glass of lemonade or a crisp gold glass of sauvignon blanc?  What makes both of those beverages work in the summer sun is their acidity – think of it as a brightness that acts in the same way as does a squeeze of lime over a taco or lemon over fish.

When the cucumbers dive into their dressing, they are literally bathed in extra refreshment.  It’s a relish, really, that’s light, summery and enlivening and a perfect match to food from the grill. And if you’re a fan of the cold fried chicken picnic, cucumber salad is almost a miracle worker for making the mouth sing after the richness of the crisp and golden-brown main course.

Tomato Head’s version of this Southern staple combines the traditional recipe with a little mint and jalapeno.  The dab of heat actually works to increase the refreshment quality because it wakes up your mouth’s receptors.  And mint adds additional refreshment with an alluring flavor that sets this dish apart from granny’s delicious but predictable version.

It’s quick, it’s fresh, and it’s cool.  Just like a cucumber ought to be.

Tomato Head’s Cucumber Salad

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

For the Dressing:

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 Tbl sugar

3/4 tsp salt

Mix vinegar together with sugar and salt in a small saucepan, and heat just until sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

For the Salad:

4 cups cucumber

1/2 cup onion

2 TBL minced jalapeno

2 TBL mint, chopped

2 TBL of vinegar mix

Thinly slice the cucumbers and onion and place in a medium bowl. Add the chopped Jalapeno and mint. Pour the dressing over the cucumber mixture and allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes.

Serve as a side dish with Fried Chicken, or any grilled meats.

Serves 6-8 people.

Fattoush

Unlike hummus, baklava or even falafel, fattoush is a word that hasn’t quite made it into the common food vocabulary.  Like the other foods mentioned, fattoush is an important dish in the cuisine of Levant – a broad and imprecise area that includes much of the eastern Mediterranean.  The word Levant doesn’t get used so much anymore in English – apparently the French still like it, though I didn’t actually ask them – and, according to an article on PRI.org, “It literally means “the rising,” referring to the land where the sun rises. If you’re in France, in the western Mediterranean, that would make sense as a way to describe the eastern Mediterranean.”

And all of that makes perfect sense if you’ve ever eaten fattoush; it’s a simple, summery feast of color, flavor and texture that brings a lot of the rising sun into each bite.

Fattoush is part of a larger group of dishes, like panzanella, that are basically bread salads, all born of frugal food sense and a no-waste kitchen economy.  These dishes stretch the dough, literally and figuratively, to make stale bread not only useful but delicious.  The secret starts in the toasting, of course, but what happens after is the real magic – the kind that comes from sunshine.Fattoush1JustinFee

Good fattoush is simple and combines crispy pita, olive oil, tomatoes, and cucumber.  There are other ways to dress up the salad, but those four essentials are what make or break the dish.  The key is freshness – not only of the produce but of the composition itself.  Sure the pita can be stale, but it must be freshly toasted – and the whole salad has to be tossed together just before serving so the bread doesn’t turn to mush.

When it’s made correctly, it’s a dish that you can eat like nachos – picking up pieces of pita piled high with summer veg and dripping with olive oil.  The combination of cool, crisp cucumbers, and tomatoes ripe from the vine slick with the sun-packed flavor of oil makes for a textural match made in food heaven when joined in a single bite with the crunch of toasted pita.

It’s a remarkable dish that’s straightforward, pantry friendly, and simple but all the more elegant because of that.  It’s a feast for the eyes too: the colors are bright and shiny with oil and reflect the best rays of the summer sun.

If your appetite is activated now, just wait until Saturday when you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today.   Mahasti is back on the air after a brief sabbatical, and she’ll show us all her secrets for one of her favorite warm weather meals.  We hope you’ll tune in, and shortly thereafter, chow down!

Tomato Head’s Fattoush

2 cups quartered cucumbers

2 cups quartered or diced tomatoes

1/3 cup chopped onion

¾ cups crumbled feta cheese

1 TBL chopped mint

1 TBL fresh lemon juice

3 TBL olive oil

1 TBL Balsamic Vinegar

1.25 tsp salt

1.5 – 2 cups Stacy’s Pita Crisps

Place cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, feta, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic

vinegar, and salt in a large bowl and toss well. When ready to serve, add pita

crisps, toss and serve.

Serves 2-4 people

Tomato Head’s Spinach Salad with Fennel, Candied Walnuts and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

For Candied Walnuts:

1/3 cup Light Brown Sugar, packed

¼ cup water

2 Tbl butter

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp allspice

1 ½ cups Walnuts

Place brown sugar, water, butter, salt and spices in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to boil and boil for 1 minute. Add walnuts, and reduce heat to medium. Cook the walnuts in the syrup, stirring, for about 3 minutes until the walnuts are heavily coated. Pour the walnut mixture onto a greased paper lined cookie sheet. Divide the walnuts up with a fork and allow to cool.

For the Dressing:

2 cups Pomegranate Juice

1 cup Cranberry Juice – preferably Knudsen Just Cranberry

1/3 cup Sugar

1 cup Balsamic Vinegar

2 Cups Oil

1 Tbl Dijon Mustard

1 tsp salt

Place the Pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, sugar and balsamic vinegar in a stainless saucepan. Bring the mixture to boil and boil until the liquid has reduced by ½ . Remove from heat, pour juice mixture into a small bowl, add remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth.

Dressing can be kept refrigerated for 7  – 10 days.

For Salad:

fresh spinach

fennel bulb, thinly sliced

granny smith apples, cored and thinly sliced

candied walnuts

onion, thinly sliced

dried cranberry

blue cheese crumbles

Place the spinach, fennel, apples, and onion in a large bowl. Pour dressing, according to your taste, over the spinach and toss well. Divide the salad up between bowls. Sprinkle each bowl with blue cheese crumbles and dried cranberries.

If you missed Mahasti’s cooking segment, click the photo below to watch her appearance on WBIR.

WBIR Fennel Recipe

 

Tomato Head’s Tuna Salad

Our menu experienced some changes last fall. The tuna salad is no longer available but that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy this classic lunchtime sandwich. A few of our customers have since asked for the tuna salad recipe and today’s the day we share it with everyone. In Mahasti’s simple to follow recipe, she’s substituted sour cream for mayonnaise, thus lowering the calorie count. The addition of Sriracha lends some tanginess, while chipotle sauce adds a smoky profile. The bells peppers, relish and onion add a nice crunch.

Enjoy!

1 – 12 oz Can Tuna in water

2 Tbl Onion, chopped

¼ cup Red Bell Pepper, diced

2 Tbl Cider Vinegar

1 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

2  heaping Tbl sweet pickle relish

2 heaping Tbl Dill Pickle, chopped

Scant ¼ cup sour cream

1/8 tsp Sriracha Sauce

1 tsp chipotle sauce (from a can of chipotle en adobo)

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp plus a pinch salt

Drain Tuna and squeeze out all of the water.  Transfer Tuna to a large bowl, add remaining ingredients and toss well with a spoon till everything is well distributed.

Serve on Flour Head Bakery Every Day White sliced sandwich bread.

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design