Fresh Dill Adds Flavor Magic
Throughout much of the US, local cucumbers are plentiful and inexpensive in our markets. And if you’re growing them in your garden, you may be looking for new ways to use them.
This simple cucumber salad has a cool, refreshing flavor that mates well with grilled and barbecued meats, fish, and poultry — all the staples of the summer table. But it also works with hearty stews and casseroles, so you can keep serving it when the weather turns cooler. It makes a tangy side dish, but it has enough eye- and taste-appeal that you can serve it as a first course. And because the dressing contains no oil, each serving has very few calories — so eat as much as you like!
It’s inexpensive, healthy, and takes just minutes to prepare. Best of all, the flavor improves if you make it a few hours ahead of time. Perfect.
Recipe: Hungarian Cucumber Salad
This dish is nothing more than thinly sliced cucumbers marinated in a vinegar dressing, then chilled in the refrigerator.
You can peel the cukes or not. I peel when the skins are waxed or thick. When my cucumbers are homegrown, I usually leave the skins on. This recipe works equally well with the fat cucumbers that we typically see in our supermarkets, or with English cucumbers (which are often sold in heavy shrink-wrap to maintain freshness).
I found this recipe years ago in Susan Derecskey’s The Hungarian Cookbooks, and I’ve been making it ever since. My version is lightly adapted from hers. It takes about 10 minutes to put together the salad, and you should let it chill for at least an hour (overnight is even better).
This recipe serves 6 to 8 (depending on the size of your servings — and the size of your cukes). You can easily scale it up to serve more. It will store covered in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days (it’s still OK to eat for a few days after that, but the cukes start to get a bit mushy).
- 2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded (optional), and thinly sliced (or you can substitute an English cucumber; see Notes)
- ½ cup vinegar (white, cider, or rice vinegar all work well)
- ½ cup water
- 2 teaspoons table sugar (or to taste; you can skip the sugar entirely, but it does add a nice flavor note)
salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (about 1/8 teaspoon)
- chopped fresh dill to taste (about a tablespoon; optional)
- Peel the cucumbers. If you don’t like the seeds (or if they’re bitter), you may want to remove them. The easiest way to do this: Cut the cukes in half lengthwise and use a teaspoon to scoop the seeds from the cucumber halves. Otherwise, keep your cukes whole.
- Slice the cucumbers as thinly as you can. It’s easier if you use a mandoline or the slicing blade on the side of a box grater. You can also use a vegetable peeler, or the slicing blade of a food processor (though the slices then tend to be a bit thicker than I like).
- Mix together the vinegar, water, and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir (or whisk) until the sugar dissolves. Add salt and pepper until the dressing is nicely spiced.
- Add the cucumbers and the optional dill (you can also sprinkle dill on top of the cucumbers when you serve). Mix together, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Transfer into a plastic storage container with a lid. Use a container that’s just large enough to hold the cucumbers (a quart size usually works well).
- Refrigerate for at least an hour; overnight is even better. Serve with additional dill as a garnish.
- The vinegar dressing wilts the cucumber slices, making them limp. Yet they still retain good structure and crunch.
- If you cut the cucumber in half lengthwise before slicing to remove seeds, your slices will be half-moon shaped. If you want to remove seeds but still have round cucumber slices, you can use a melon baller to tunnel into the cucumber’s core. But that’s a bit of a pain.
- Want an attractive pattern on the edges of your slices? In Step 1, try this: Remove ¼-inch of peel from the cuke (remove it lengthwise), leave the next ¼ of peel on the cuke, remove the next ¼ inch of peel, and so forth, until you’ve made your way around the circumference of the cucumber. When you’re finished, you’ll have alternating stripes of peeled/unpeeled cucumber that will look pretty when you slice the cuke.
- Instead of fresh dill, you can substitute dill seed — maybe a teaspoon. Or use another herb of your choice. But dill is magic in this dish.
- You can add a clove or two of minced garlic to the dressing if you like. Not traditional, but it adds a touch of zing.
- Likewise, you could add a few dashes of Tabasco.
Little Dish, Big Flavor
As noted up top, this is a great side or salad with both summer and winter meals.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere who are still “enjoying” hot weather, this dish is a natural for picnics. I particularly like it as a side with Grilled Hamburgers or Barbecued Pork Steaks. But it’d go great with ribs, brisket, hot dogs — you name it.
For those in the southern hemisphere (or anyone in the northern anticipating chilly fall weather), this dish is a classic accompaniment to a Hungarian goulash, and works well as a starter with Hungarian Noodles and Cabbage. I also like to serve it as a salad course with Red-Braised Beef with Sweet Potatoes (or if you want a vegan meal, Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes). It’s delish with a big roast like Roast Pork.
Make this dish once, and you’ll return to it again and again. This is a simple recipe that doesn’t require many ingredients and is extremely easy to put together. But it packs tremendous flavor, and it’s the sort of dish that everyone likes. You’ll get more recipe requests than you can imagine.
Just smile, and say it’s an old family secret. Or if you’re feeling benevolent, send them a link to this post. Either way, you win.
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