Ethereal Summer Salad

By on August 2nd, 2012 Categories: Day-to-Day Matters

As a kid, I consumed more than my fair share of thick cucumber slices, either seasoned plainly with salt and pepper or dipped in clotted sour cream [I preferred the former]. What I enjoyed most about the humble cucumber was its dependable crunch and sturdiness: it never let me down. I also loved how cooling it felt to snack on cukes during the hot summer months.

But a magical transformation occurs when you slice cucumbers just shy of paper thin. An almost waif-like lightness replaces the signature crunch, and the wider surface, glistening with water, is better-suited to absorb your dressing. Plus, the transparent celadon curlicues exude elegance. Even if you’re eating this salad at home in front of the TV, you will somehow feel compelled to serve it on your prettiest plate and eat with a napkin on your lap.

The same is true for onions. Thick slices of raw onion are a welcome flavor when tempered by heartier ingredients, for example, when served in bun with a veggie burger, lettuce, tomato and ketchup. But slice an onion whisper thin, and its personality shifts from the aggressive kid who needs to constantly be at the center of attention, to a cooperative little do-gooder, ready to play nice with everyone. Its heat is instantly tempered and owing to the petite size, is more evenly distributed across your salad. The gentle magenta and white arcs nestled in and around the pale green cukes, contrasted with flashes of berry and parsley remind me of a stained-glass window. Scroll down for the recipe.

To properly thin-slice cucumbers or other vegetables, you really do need a mandoline. This is one I have. I love it and use it often, but be careful: the blades are dangerously sharp! Other fruits and veggies I frequently slice using my mandoline include zucchini, potatoes [esp when making chips], radishes, carrots, apples, pears, etc.

Ethereal Summer Salad with Maple-Caper Vinaigrette
2 large cucumbers, sliced thinly with a mandoline
1/4 small Vidalia onion, sliced thinly with a mandoline
1/4 small red onion, sliced thinly with a mandoline
4 or 5 large strawberries, thinly sliced [Don’t use your mandoline for these; it will destroy them!]
About 1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

1 T best-quality balsamic vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T maple syrup [Agave nectar also works]
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 T capers, rinsed and chopped
About 5 large basil leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

Serves 4

Assemble your salad on plates or in a large bowl.

To make dressing, whisk first 4 ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth. Stir in the garlic, capers and basil, adjust seasonings. Add to salad, to taste.

The author of The Urban Vegan: 250 Simple, Sumptuous Recipes from Street Cart Favorites to Haute Cuisine (Globe Pequot, 2009) and the upcoming Celebrate Vegan: 200 Life-Affirming Recipes for Occasions Big and Small (Globe Pequot, October 2011), Dynise Balcavage’s recipes have appeared in VegNews, Vegetarian Times, Végétariens magazine (in French) and on Dynise has been interviewed in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune and has done cooking demonstrations across the globe, from New York to Paris. She lives in Philadelphia, blogs at and tweets at theurbanvegan.

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