Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice

There is a rolling continuum of the ingredients I cook with throughout the year, mounds of rhubarb in late spring toppling into the berries of summer, mingling on occasion in recipes like Nordic rhubarb and strawberry jam. In this way, fruits and vegetables help mark the changing seasons, ushering one gracefully into the next. Around this time each summer, when the midday sun begins to compete with the moist marine air around Seattle and the leaves begin their gradual display of changing colors, I feel compelled to embrace tomatoes, still vibrant and full of flavor, as often as I can and buy corn to grill for an outdoor meal, even if we must pull a sweater up over our shoulders while we dine.

This time of year, we do a lot of grilling. My husband prepares good quality meat or fish, seasoning it simply with olive oil and sea salt and maybe a little pepper and puts it on the grill while I make the side dishes and set the table. On Friday evening we needed little more than lamb chops and a couple of simple salads to make a meal.

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice and Tomato Salad

Cucumber salads have figured prominently in my home in recent months, with the sweet-and-sour cucumber salad and cucumber salad with dill that I made for June’s Midsummer picnic and a creamy salad of cucumber and radish. There are any number of varieties in Scandinavian cuisine, and even with similar ingredient lists they can taste much different, depending on technique, the palate and taste preferences of the cook, and the seasonings. I veered away from the traditional Nordic varieties this past weekend, taking cues from David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke instead. Peeling the cucumber and slicing it into half moons, I dressed it with yogurt seasoned with garlic, fresh dill and mint, and drizzled olive oil and sprinkled red pepper flakes over the top. Adding a simple salad of heirloom tomatoes, we were set.

Heirloom Tomatoes on Board

Soon enough the tomatoes will make way for the foods of autumn. Apples are already making their way into my baking, and soon artichokes and Brussels sprouts will take up significant parts of our meals. And don’t forget the squash and root vegetables that conjure up all the cozy nostalgia of autumns past. One season is beginning its gradual roll into the next, but I’ll hold onto every last bit of summer as long as I can.

Tomatoes and Summer Dinner

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice
Inspired by the Cucumbers and Yogurt in Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis

1 large cucumber
Salt and pepper
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1 garlic clove, pressed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped dill
Red pepper flakes

Peel the cucumber. Cut it in half lengthwise, then slice into half moons about 1/3-inch thick. Place in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add yogurt, garlic, olive oil, mint, and dill, and stir. Refrigerate while you’re preparing the rest of your meal–try to give it at least a half an hour. Check the seasonings and add more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with red pepper flakes and drizzle olive oil over the top.

Serves 4.

Cucumber Salad for Your Scandinavian Midsummer Menu

Sliced CucumbersIn the beginning of my career as a journalist, I was paying my dues as a television news writer working in the middle of the night to prepare the morning newscast. Back then I would pull into the parking lot at the TV station located across the street from Seattle’s Lake Union and walk the two dozen feet from my car to the main entrance, swipe my badge at the door, wave hello to the graveyard security guard and settle in at my desk in the empty newsroom, the florescent lights mocking my tired eyes and the police and fire scanners blaring at the assignment desk and reminding me of the inability to fall asleep at my desk even if I tried.

Sliced Cucumbers

Back in those days, there was little time for a social life. I’d leave the newsroom around 9:30 or 10 in the morning, after most people have gone to work. I’d crawl into bed below windows covered with towels to block out the midday sun, and I’d sleep until that sun had gone to bed and it was time for me to repeat the process.

Cucumber and Dill Salad

I kept at it month after month, year after year. Six years ago, however, I made a change. No longer committed to a career in TV news, I found myself inspired to make a switch. I left a writers’ conference in Portland, Oregon, that June inspired to steer my skills toward print journalism. I gave it some time before making the move, and then later in the summer I gave my notice.

I spent the rest of the summer adjusting to a normal life, getting used to sleeping in the same bed as my husband for more than two times a week and getting used to sleeping–get this!–at night. I spent those August and September days sleeping late, talking walks to process things, and taking steps toward finding another job. If I picture that time in a snapshot, I think of my old neighborhood street illuminated by the gentle, warming rays of the sun. The sun! That bright object I had spent so many years covering up!

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

I wonder if my experience reflects what Scandinavians feel this time of year when the sun stays out most of the day in contrast to the winter when it barely makes an appearance. Traveling to Bergen in the summer in 2008, I got my first taste of the Nordic summer sun. Going back to the hotel, closing the blinds, and going to sleep while the sun had not yet set wasn’t easy.

My family will be marking the summer solstice and Midsummer with a Scandinavian-inspired picnic this year. Simply prepared with salmon, pickled herring, a selection of Scandinavian cheeses, crispbread, dilled potatoes, and cucumber salad, all the components are chilling in the fridge right now, waiting to be enjoyed.

As I was preparing the menu, a cucumber salad was a necessity, but I found two that caught my eye. One, with cucumbers sliced thinly, was more of a quick pickle while the the other retained the watery crunch of the cucumbers but dressed them with dill. Both recipes are adapted from The Scandinavian Kitchen by Camilla Plum. Though the ingredients are similar, the results are quite different. Try one or both–or improvise and take cues from the second recipe and add dill to the first. In any case, these salads are distinctly Nordic, and they’ll add a fresh flavor to your Scandinavian Midsummer menu.

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

1 large (15.5 ounce) cucumber
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Thinly slice the cucumber with a mandoline and place it in a heat-proof bowl. Bring water, vinegar, and seasonings to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring frequently. Pour over the sliced cucumbers and stir to coat. Cool, stirring occasionally. Serve right away or store in the refrigerator.

Serves 4-6.

Cucumber Salad with Dill

1 large (12.5 ounce) cucumber
1 small bunch of dill, stems and leaves, chopped finely (about 1 generous tablespoon)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Cut it into 1/4-inch slices at a slat. Stir remaining ingredients together in a medium bowl. Toss the cucumbers with the dressing and marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.

Serves 2-4.

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