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.

Dill in Scandinavian Cooking

Dill Sauce

When it comes to understanding Scandinavian cuisine, I’ve had to take a few steps back from my own experience and look at how the dishes and desserts I grew up eating fit within the culinary traditions of a people and a place. Sometimes just being in the midst of it–especially in one’s youth–provides the enjoyment of the moment without the appreciation or understanding of perspective.

Such was my experience with the holiday meals my dad’s parents served on Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was growing up. The pork roast, medisterkaker, surkål, steamed vegetables, and rice cream were standard fare at their house, and on one hand I knew that we were eating a Norwegian spread. But on the other hand, it took a trip to Norway as an adult, along with an active exploration of the foods of my heritage, for me to fully grasp the gift I had been given by experiencing those home-cooked meals year after year.

Tomato Salad with Dill

Since starting Outside Oslo several years ago, I’ve enjoyed having an outlet for sharing my explorations of Scandinavian cuisine and an excuse to get to know more fully what defines the foods of the Nordic countries. As I seek to build culinary traditions in my own home that reflect my family’s heritage, I love that I get to collect those notes and ideas and recipes here–and that you share your feedback and your own experiences as well!

The other day I built a meal around a commonly-used ingredient: dill. Danish food writer Camilla Plum, in her book The Scandinavian Kitchen, calls dill “the ultimate Nordic herb,” and I agree. In the early days of my Scandinavian culinary exploration, dill was one of the flavors that seemed to most represent the cuisine. It flavors everything from gravlax to cucumber salads with its grassy, springlike taste.

Green Beans and Mushrooms with Dill Vinaigrette

As I explored dill in Scandinavian cooking the other night, the main course was cod served with a creamy dill sauce–a traditional way of serving fish. For the accompaniments, I branched out and allowed the flavor to be my guide as I shopped for vegetables, choosing bright red tomatoes and alluring green beans to bring home.

A tomato salad came together easily, with a simple dressing of olive oil and red wine vinegar to accent the flavors of the tomato and dill. Thinking of what flavors would best suit a dill vinaigrette for green beans and mushrooms, I combined white wine vinegar and Dijon mustard, whisking in walnut oil to give it a soft, nutty profile that would pull all the flavors together.

I have included all three recipes here, two of them Outside Oslo originals. What are your favorite ways to work dill into your cooking? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Cold Dill Sauce
Serve this sauce–adapted from Scandinavian Classics by Niklas Ekstedt–with cod prepared in any way you’d like; broiling is an easy way.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 packed cup chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sugar, to taste

Mix mayonnaise, sour cream, dill, and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and sugar in a bowl until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld and the salt and sugar to dissolve into the cream.

Green Beans and Mushrooms with Dill Vinaigrette
An Outside Oslo original

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup walnut oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 pound green beans
1 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Stir together vinegar, mustard, and salt in a small bowl until the ingredients are combined and the salt has dissolved. Whisking constantly, slowly pour in the walnut oil and continue to whisk until emulsified. Gently stir in chopped dill. Refrigerate until ready to use. (Vinaigrette can be made several hours in advance.)

Steam green beans until tender. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet, then add mushrooms and sauté until cooked but still al dente; season with a little bit of salt.

Arrange green beans on a platter, and top with mushrooms. Scatter sliced almonds over the vegetables, and drizzle the vinaigrette on top.

Grape Tomato Salad with Dill
An Outside Oslo original

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill

Stir together vinegar and salt in a small bowl, then slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly until emulsified. Toss vinaigrette with the tomatoes until coated, then arrange in a shallow serving dish. Sprinkle chopped dill over tomatoes and serve.

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