Most recipes these days seem to insist the salad be the meal. Which can be nice, particularly in the heat of summer. But sometimes a salad needs to play another role. Sometimes it just needs to help us appreciate the other foods. This is what I was thinking as I considered what to pair with a recent dinner of pulled pork bathed in a vinegary-peppery sauce.
I didn't want a big, bold salad that would compete with the pork. I wanted a cool and refreshing salad that would serve as a counterpoint to the barbecue.
I'd recently seen a salad of cucumber and cold cooked chicken bathed in sour cream. It seemed nice — and a perfect contrast to the pork. But again, I didn't need more protein.
So I decided to deconstruct it back to side salad status, mostly by removing the chicken. But I also decided it needed a better texture. Raw cucumber straight up tends to be watery. And water does nasty things to thick and creamy dressings. I needed to get rid of the water.
To do this, I borrowed a trick from Japanese slaws that involves salting thinly sliced vegetables, then gently pressing them to remove water. Once dressed, these pressed salads have a more satisfying texture and won't dilute the other flavours. It worked perfectly for this cucumber salad, leaving the sour cream dressing rich and creamy.
PRESSED CUCUMBER SALAD WITH SOUR CREAM
The trick to this salad is slicing everything as thinly as possible. A mandoline is best, but a food processor fitted with the slicing blade will work, too.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
2 large English cucumbers
1 small red onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Slice both cucumbers and the onion as thinly as possible, then mix them together in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables.
Using your hands, gently knead and press the vegetables. Don't crush or mash them, just gently work the vegetables in the bowl.
After 2 to 4 minutes of kneading, there should be a large amount of water in the bowl. Pour off and discard the water.
Stir in the sour cream, dill, lemon zest and juice, garlic powder and black pepper. The salad can be made up to 4 hours in advance. If so, prepare the dressing separately and refrigerate in a separate container from the cucumbers. Just before serving, drain the cucumbers again, then mix in the dressing.
Nutrition information per serving: 60 calories; 30 calories from fat (50 per cent of total calories); 3.5 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 1 g protein; 330 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org