There was a time in my life where my morning ritual consisted of venturing out to my swing set to blare the Enchanted soundtrack at 7am before making my way to the garden. Being the heat-intolerant 11-year-old that I was, my job was to pick our over-sized vegetable garden - a task best done before the sweltering Virginia heat set in. This meant gathering baskets of green beans, armfuls of zucchini, piles of pumpkins, and up to one hundred cucumbers each day.
Yes, one hundred cucumbers.
My mother had a very green thumb when it came to cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplant.
When you have filled up your entire refrigerator with cucumbers and have gifted them to every willing and unwilling neighbor you can find, you become resourceful…or desperate; most likely a little of both.
Over those bountiful summers we made cucumber soup, cucumber bread (it was as bad as it sounds), and every kind of pickle and relish imaginable. There were, as you have guessed, many failures, but one of the recipes we never had to be convinced to eat was cucumber salad.
This simple but distinctive salad has been a summer staple for my grandmother - and through her, the rest of our family - for as long as I can remember. It found its way into so many family dinners and continues to be a lasting favorite, even when cucumbers are a less ubiquitous commodity.
This salad has been so much of a staple in my family that I had assumed everyone must know how to make it, but as I continue to prepare and serve it to unaccustomed friends, I am learning that this relished favorite is not so common as I always believed.
So, I am nailing down the recipe that has, to my knowledge, never been exactly recorded, and putting my inherited instincts, pinches, and dashes down in cold, hard measurements.
To make this salad properly, you are going to need a mandolin slicer. Sure, you could do the knife work yourself, but this recipe works best when the cucumbers and onions are in paper-thin slices, which is difficult and time-consuming to achieve without the help of one of these dangerous yet efficient tools.
Next comes the dressing, which could not be simpler. A spoonful of mayonnaise, a bit of vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and plentiful salt and pepper are whisked together until smooth. Pour the dressing over the cut vegetables and toss. Add in a few handfuls of tomato wedges; we add these last to protect them from disintegrating.
We are going to macerate our vegetables in this dressing for a hot minute so that they soak up all of the flavor from our dressing and soften up a bit. They will still maintain a good amount of crunch, but the resting period will lift a bit of that raw flavor and help all of the components to get to know each other.
This salad is welcome alongside fried chicken, grilled pork chops, burgers, hot dogs, barbecue or just about any summer meal really, and it tastes so fresh whether the vegetables are from your own garden or not.
The only problem with this side dish is that it just might steal the whole darn show…but that’s one problem I don’t mind having.
Classic Cucumber Salad
2 large English cucumbers
1 small red onion
1/2 cup mayonnaise
5 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 medium tomatoes, sliced into wedges
Use a mandolin slicer to slice the cucumbers and onion into paper-thin slices; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, pepper, and sea salt.
Add the cucumbers and onion to the mayonnaise mixture and use tongs to toss the mixture together, being sure to coat all of the cucumbers and onions in the dressing. Gently fold the tomatoes into the salad.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes before serving.
Enjoy alongside grilled chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, or just about anything you like!
If refrigerated, salad will last in the refrigerator for up to two days.