Friday, July 8, 2011

Cucumber Salad with Olives, Oregano, and Almonds

I love pickles. Actually, I love any form of cucumbers soaked in vinegar. When my best friend from high school told me she'd never tried a pickle, I made her eat one the first chance I got. Unfortunately, we were on a boat at the time, so now whenever she smells a pickle she gets seasick. It's okay, though. More pickles for me. When I found this recipe for cucumber salad in this month's Cook's Illustrated, I determined that I had to try it immediately. And, since I was planning a sort of greek salad themed brunch, it was the natural choice for a side dish. The fact that it involved the three greek salad elements missing from my frittata--cucumbers, olives, and oregano--was just gravy.

One of my favorite snacks is a super simplified version of this dish, which involves nothing more than thinly sliced cucumbers, rice wine vinegar, and salt.* Of course, Cook's Illustrated makes it much more sophisticated, with a simple cucumber drying process and a tempered version of the vinegar. It's certainly fussier than simply slicing cucumbers and dumping vinegar over them, but I think it's completely worth the extra few minutes it takes to reduce some vinegar and chop some herbs. The result was simply marvelous. I liked it even better out of the fridge a few hours later (which I suppose makes sense--I like my pickles fresh from the fridge too), so I suggest letting it chill for a half-hour or so before you serve it.

Cucumber Salad with Olives, Oregano, and Almonds
Serves 8 as a side

3 tbsp sliced almonds
4 cucumbers
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsps olive oil
1 1/2 tsps sugar
1 tsp salt
A few grinds black pepper
1/2 cup kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp minced fresh oregano

1. Put almonds in a small saute pan over very low heat. Stir frequently until the nuts are golden brown and your kitchen smells divine. Set aside until ready to use.
2. Peel cucumbers. Slice each cucumber in half the long way. With a teaspoon, scrape out the seeds. Slice each cucumber half into very thin slices.
3. Cover a cookie sheet in paper towels. Spread the cucumber slices over the paper towels and refrigerate until ready to dress.
4. Put the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook until it is reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 6-10 minutes. Pour the vinegar into a bowl and let it cool.
5. When the vinegar is cool, whisk it together with the lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, salt, and pepper.
6. When you're ready to serve the salad (or half an hour before if you like cold cucumbers), put the cucumbers into a serving bowl and add the dressing, shallots, olives, and herbs. Toss to coat the vegetables in the dressing. Let it sit for five minutes and toss again.
7. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve. If you chill it for a few minutes, toss again before bringing the salad to the table.

From Cook's Illustrated, July/August 2011

*While this snack is delicious, it does not keep well for any period of time. Cucumbers leak, especially when you salt them (which is why you drain them on paper towels in the recipe above). You should not, for example, try to take your dressed cucumbers to work, like I did. Sad times.

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