International flair made easy with cukes

Cucumbers are in full swing here in New England and as I have said many times before, there is just no comparison between garden cukes you grow or buy roadside and the ones you purchase in the store. With that in mind, I urge you to try one of these sides while “the gettin’ is good”.
I know there are literally hundreds and thousands of ways to enjoy a cucumber but allow me to give you a few sides that are terrific with your cookout or grilled fare this summer. The first one is a ‘must try’ before the sun speeds through our sky, signalling the end of gorgeous weather;

Fresh Cucumber Dip.

No one says you should only dip your cut veggies, chips, crackers or crusty bread in this refreshing dip. Slather it on a burger or steak sandwich. Just as long as you don’t put it on a hot dog!

 

1/4 c. plus 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
3/4 c. sour cream or plain yogurt
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped, about 1/2 cup**
2 green onions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces*
2 t. apple cider vinegar
1 t. cayenne pepper

In a medium skillet, toast almonds on medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown. Put 1 tablespoon almonds in small bowl. Set aside to use as garnish. In food processor or blender, process remaining almonds 3 to 5 seconds, or until coarsely crushed (1/4-inch irregular pieces). Transfer to medium serving bowl.  Process remaining ingredients to desired consistency, 5 to 10 seconds for chunky texture, 15 to 20 seconds for smooth. Stir into crushed almonds. To serve, sprinkle with reserved almonds.

*By all means use dried chives here, 1 T. in place of the green onion.
**It would be a good idea to squeeze as much liqui9d from the cucumbers before processing. Not doing so may lead to a runny dip as it sits.

Cucumber Raita
Now Raita(pronounced Rayta)may not sound like an enthusiastic side to your meal but one bite of this Indian dish and you will find numerous ways to enjoy it all summer long. In India, they don’t limit just the ingredients shown below, each family has their own little touch. Some add other vegetables such as carrots or another root vegetable while others add spices such as ginger, garlic or chile paste. Fruit is often blended in as well, such as diced and squeezed pineapple and guava. Used as either a condiment or a salad, spice it up any way you see fit. It is meant to be eaten with something spicy in order to cool the tongue.

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded(optional) and thinly sliced
1/4 c. minced Vidalia onion, optional
2 c. plain or Greek yogurt
3 T. lemon or lime juice
1 T. dried crushed mint
1/2 t. sugar
1/4 t. salt
Large pinch of black pepper

Sprinkle salt over cucumber slices and let sit for one hour in refrigerator either on a rack over a baking sheet or on a paper towel lined pan. This is to draw out as much liquid as possible. Stir together all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

This dish is very similar to Tsatsiki(or Tzatziki), a Greek dish which also takes advantage of the tangy nature of yogurt. In both cases, the yogurt used is typically plain, whole fat, and very thick. Strained yogurt works especially well, because it is extremely thick and it has a texture almost like that of soft cheese curds; in some parts of India, Raita is known as a curd preparation in a reference to the desired texture.

Rosiki Salata (Russian Salad)
Yup, the Soviet Unions favorite salad in Yankee Land. We are open minded after all. Though not your typical salad as we know it here in America, the absence of lettuce has a reason in the origin of Russian Salads. This is due to the length of the growing season, where lettuce doesn’t fare so well.  Some families are successful in growing it in a greenhouse setting perhaps at a country dacha, but most Soviets dwell in massive high rise apartments and a garden space is most often found out in the country at a weekend dacha(a cabin or rustic home).
The next thing you’ll notice about Russian salads is the prominence of “root crops,” those vegetables which grown undergound.  These plants have the advantage of the ground as a natural shelter from weather up top on the surface.  That means they can be started earlier or can finish later than ordinary plants.  Therefore you’ll see lots of things like potatoes, beets, carrots, radishes, onions, turnips, etc, in a Russian salad.

Finally, Russian salads are much more like their Greek counterparts than most realize.  Russians love to “mix it up” a bit by adding fruits like grapes, melon, raisins, pineapple, apple, etc, to a vegetable salad.  Often honey or molasses to a salad, creating a very nice surprise to the palate.

4 potatoes, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 c. frozen green peas
2 T. pickled capers*, drained
1/2 c. mayonnaise, (more if you want it to be totally Greek)
Salt and black pepper to taste
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
Parsley for garnish, optional

Boil the potatoes, carrots and peas separately: drain and cool. Mix the potatoes and carrots with peas and pickled capers. Then mix in mayonnaise with salt and pepper. Chop two of the eggs and fold them in, garnish with the last egg. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
*By substituting chopped pickles in place of capers, you have just made another “must have” salad on the family table in the Soviet Union, the Olivie Salad.

To make this Russian Salad more hearty, add a 1/2 lb. cooked, chopped meat such as chicken or beef. If you want to keep it in the vegetarian style, add some sliced mushrooms(cooked or raw) and don’t forget to add some lightly cooked shrimp for the seafood lover in you.

Cucumber Mint Tzatziki(pronouinced Za Ziki)

This is a classic Greek side dish, which can be served with meat and vegetable dishes, as well as accompanying souvlaki or gyros and always served ice cold. It is the perfect accompaniment to grilled lamb.

1 cucumber
1/2 t. salt
2 t. minced garlic in oil, rinsed
1 t. apple cider vinegar
2 c. strained Greek yoghurt
4 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. chopped, dried dill leaves

Remove the skin of the cucumber and grate it. Salt the cucumber and leave it in a colander for half-an-hour and then drain well.Put it in a bowl with the garlic and the rest of the ingredients. Mix them all well with the help of a fork. Put the dip in a bowl, add salt if needed and decorate it with few dill leaves.