Cool as a Cucumber Salad
Two pounds of short and chubby cucumbers helped fill my basket to overflowing. These crisp and tasty farmers’ market beauties were destined for a Cucumber Salad from Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Plenty. Once home, I was so excited to get cooking, I charged ahead without taking a moment to read through the recipe in advance. Even with a number of missteps this was one very cool Cucumber Salad.
Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
But let me back up a bit. I’ve read glowing reports about Plenty for quite a while now. Amazon has it listed as one of its top books of 2013. Last week I brought home a copy from the library and immediately began skimming it from cover to cover. Oh my, so many bold and vibrant flavors and fresh and original combinations. I marked a number of recipes to try over the next two weeks.
Plenty, Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi is a beautiful and well designed book. In each of the recipes I tried, I found wonderful new techniques and combinations and flavors.
- I love Ottolenghi’s method for cooking leeks as in the Leek Fritters on page 36. He suggests thickly slicing the leeks and slow cooking them in oil in a covered pan. They become meltingly soft and truly luxurious.
- Herbs, herbs everywhere and in great combinations. Take a look at the fragrant and oh so flavorful five-herb paste for the Green Couscous Salad on page 255.
- I’ve never liked raw onions other than scallions in salads. Until I tried Ottolenghi’s technique for removing their sharpness. He recommends marinating the sliced onion in the oil and vinegar dressing for an hour before using. Genius.
- The most gorgeous two-page portrait of radicchio, ever.
- Plenty creative, original and inventive recipes featuring the flavors of the Middle East for people who love to cook.
A bit disappointing
I seem to have chosen recipes that required lots of active time and a multitude of steps and ingredients. And after all that, the results were often only okay.
Cucumber Salad with Green Quinoa Salad
The Cucumber Salad I loved. It is the simplest of the recipes I made. With fewer ingredients, each of the ingredients shines brightly. I love the undertone of toasted sesame oil and the bite of fresh ginger. Mixed with a bit of yogurt it becomes a most flavorful raita.
Having misread the recipe, I thinly sliced the ginger rather than smashing it with the salt and garlic in a mortar and pestle. I didn’t notice my mistakes until after stirring the ginger into the dressing. Most wonderfully, the thin slices of ginger created a burst of flavor. And slices are way easier, especially if you lack a mortar and pestle. I now recommend cutting the ginger into thin matchsticks instead of the slices. Just use a garlic press to crush the garlic.
I served this crisp, light and refreshing Cucumber Salad alongside Green Quinoa, adapted from Ottolenghi’s recipe for Green Couscous.
Plenty’s vibrant recipes, complex ingredients and colorful photos offer wonderful reading and much inspiration. These are not your everyday recipes, nor your everyday ingredients. Save them for when you have extra time in the kitchen, for entertaining and for showcasing your and Ottolenghi’s culinary expertise.
What’s been your experience cooking from Plenty? Which recipes do you love and what if any changes have you made from the original?
Cucumber Salad w/ Ginger & Toasted Sesame Oil
Inspired and adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi in his colorful cookbook, Plenty.
A crisp, light and refreshing side salad uniquely flavored with ginger, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar. This Cucumber Salad brightens everything you serve with it.
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1½ hours
3 tablespoons seasoned “lite” rice vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
½ medium purple onion
½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin matchsticks
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 1/3 pounds small cucumbers
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
- Combine the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Thinly slice the purple onion from stem end to root end. Stir the onion into the dressing along with the fresh ginger matchsticks, crushed garlic and salt. Let this mixture marinate for about an hour.
- Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- 15-20 minutes before serving, prepare the cucumbers. Use a peeler to remove the skin in strips if the cucumbers are organic. Completely peel them if not organic. Cut the cucumbers in half. Then slice ¼-inch thick slices on an angle.
- Place the cucumber slices in a medium bowl. Add the dressing and scallions. Gently toss together.
- Just before serving stir in the toasted sesame seeds.