With summer in full swing, produce is bountiful and delicious, and sometimes, the best way to enjoy the bounty is through a simple yet very elegant salad. Shallots or Vidalias make for lovely complements to this dish and a bath of white balsamic vinegar is the perfect dressing. I sweeten the vinegar with “just a spoonful of sugar” and this step actually adds a depth of flavor and volume as well, contrasting the bitter, salty, and tangy of the onions, cucumbers, and vinegar. If you love onions, go with Vidalias…if you like onions, stick with shallots for a milder flavor – it’s a winner either way. A few leaves of basil, shredded or julienned add that marvelous dose of flavor that only fresh garden herbs can…the small leaves of African Blue basil are tres magnifique yet any good basil will do!
This strikingly beautiful dish has a special place in my heart, for it is one of the first things I ever learned how to prepare. The soft green and cool white of the cucumbers, their opalescence of sorts, the ice chips, the crisp onions and sharp vinegar made for a sensual dish - engaging sight, smell, taste, and touch. Here’s a reflection of memories on cooking as a child with Mary…
“Since a vegetable garden can feed an army, our neighbor told us we could pick all we wanted. Besides my own petit jardin, the other residents of our bucolical world would have gardens for gathering.
Mary would gather us under arms or skirts, depending on how old we were, and traipse across the road, field, or yard to pick vegetables. We would pick squash, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini. Even though we’d start early (by children’s standards), eight-thirty or nine, the heat and humidity would commence their cadence, leaving us sweaty and sticky and me a little grossed out by the rotted squash blossoms that had adhered to our already clammy fingers. Have you ever smelled a rotten squash or zucchini? You’d remember it too.
Daddy came home for lunch most days, so we would “help” Mrs. Mary prepare the midday meal. I am sure that we had to be nuisances to her in the kitchen, but she was always keen to give us a special task to occupy our minds and hands—tasks that engaged my curiosity in the kitchen, allowing me to gain a culinary education from the likes of Mrs. Mary, Mama, and Mimi.
The cucumbers would be sliced quarter thin and soaked in vinegar. Sweet Vidalia’s, a dash of sugar and some ice chips complete this cocktail of tangy, sweet, and sour delight. Mary would carve the corn from the cob and fry it: the starchy kernels would yield their juicy cream. Butter, salt, and pepper complete the dish as only that hold trinity can. Browning the onion first, Mary would then sauté the squash with the former triumvirate. A good meat and biscuits completed the meal. Not that any of this is romantic or extraordinary, but simple and elegant meals that are nostalgic epicenters of my life.”
***Cooks Note…just double if your crew becomes a crowd…this will feed several folks.
3-4 small cucumbers, sliced “quarter thin”
1 small Vidalia or a couple small shallots
¾ cup of white balsamic vinegar
Teaspoon of sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste…freshly ground preferably
Handful of ice chips
- Slice the cucumbers into thin discs.
- Slice onion or shallot into thin pieces or strips
- Dissolve sugar into vinegar over medium heat or in the microwave.
- Pour mixture of cucumbers…salt and pepper to taste.
- Add a few ice chips to chill the salad…serve cold and ENJOY!