Tag Archives: Cucumber

Parsley and cucumber salad

One of the most memorable classes I took in college was with Professor B. He was one of the old guard, and beloved at our school: a white-bearded, broad-shouldered fellow, deep-voiced and slyly charismatic. He took great delight in winding his students up over thorny issues and then letting them go. It was a rambling and highly opinionated circus of a class, and at the end of the semester we decided to celebrate by taking Professor B out to dinner as a group. The twenty or so of us packed into a local restaurant and crowded the table with wine and beer and sake (and food, of course). It didn’t take long for the conversation to loosen.

Professor B shared a lot of wisdom and opinions with us that night, about geography and traffic patterns and the state of public education. But the thing that stuck with me most was his advice about dinner on a date. “This is very important. If you’re going to eat garlic on a date, make sure you’re both eating it,” he exhorted us. “But if you can’t get your date to eat garlic, all you have to do is eat parsley. Just eat some parsley. It cancels it out.”

I haven’t been able to eat parsley since without thinking of Professor B. I have no idea if it’s actually the remedy he claimed it was–I haven’t done a controlled experiment, shall we say. But the idea of parsley as a romance-enabler stuck with me. Every time I nibble a parsley spring from a garnish on a restaurant plate, I imagine I’m doing my date a favor. And when I found myself with most of a bunch left after cooking mussels, I decided to try a full-on Valentine’s Day parsley blast, and turn it into a salad.

I would never have guessed that parsley leaves make great salad greens, but they really do. They’re fluffy and flavorful, but without the bitterness that most lettuces and greens have. And unlike delicate and fancy salad greens, parsley doesn’t wilt when dressed; the leaves keep their shape for a long time, even overnight, with no detectable difference in texture. I shaved the parsley leaves off the stems, added some seeded and drained cucumber, and drizzled the whole thing with lemon vinaigrette, for a salad that was bright, crunchy, and feather-light. I could easily imagine this as a palate-cleanser (and garlic-cleanser) alongside any number of rich and romantic main courses.

Forget chocolate. Thanks to Professor B, this is my ultimate Valentine’s Day food.

parsley cucumber salad

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Classic refrigerator pickles

Here’s an oldie but goodie: refrigerator pickles.

I remember making a version of these with my mother when I was in grade school. We’d pickle cucumbers whole in a simple brine, with plenty of garlic and dill. Then into the fridge they would go, for a couple of days and sometimes longer, before we could get at them. At the time, it seemed like an eternity to wait, especially for little pickle-addicted me. After a while, I made up my mind that I didn’t really like refrigerator pickles, partly because they didn’t taste much like the supermarket pickles I was used to, and partly because they took so gorram long to be ready.

I know better now, of course. In fact, I think I even prefer refrigerator pickles to their pressure-processed counterparts. Without a sustained dose of heat to make them shelf-stable, the pickles retain some of their original snap, and the flavors in the brine stay sharp and unmuffled. On top of that, refrigerator pickles are a great way to play with flavoring agents, finding the combinations that hit the spot on a particular day, in a particular mood. The last time I made a batch, I threw in some allspice on a whim, and ended up loving it within the classic mix of garlic and dill; next time I’m thinking I might go full-on spicy, with some chili peppers and maybe even hot sauce in the mix.

Even the best refrigerator pickle recipes are templates, not rulebooks. As long as the proportions of vinegar and salt in the brine, and the ratio of brine to vegetable matter, stay about the same, the sky’s the limit. And not just with cucumbers, either; I’ve got my eye on pickled radishes next, and after that it’s on to pearl onions, baby carrots, and maybe even green tomatoes.

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Scallops with ginger cucumber salad

So here’s a food thing I made a while back, when there was still a little warmth left in the weather.  On the face of it, it’s a fussy little thing, insubstantial and odd: spicy cucumber salad with seared scallops on top.  But for lunch on a sunny and not-scorching day, it’s pretty terrific.

I realize that now is not the traditional time for light, sprightly, small-portion salad meals.  But in a season of indulgence, this is the kind of dish that cuts right through the heft and the guilt–ginger and jalapeno and sesame and soy, plus a cushion of golden-crowned scallops on top.

Nothing like what you’ve probably been eating.

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