Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

Hungarian Cucumber Salad in White Ramekin with Napkin and Fork, Black Background

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. 


Hungarian Cucumber Salad in White Ramekin, Overhead View



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).

Ingredients
  • 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)
Procedure
  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. Refrigerate for at least an hour; overnight is even better.  Serve with additional dill as a garnish.

Hungarian Cucumber Salad in White Ramekin with Napkin and Fork

Notes
  • 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.

Hungarian Cucumber Salad in White Ramekin, Black Background

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.

You may also enjoy reading about:
BLT Salad
Chef's Salad
Gazpacho
White Bean and Tuna Salad
Tuna Pasta Salad
Roast Strawberry Salad
Salade Niçoise
Spinach Salad with Parmesan
Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
Creamy Cole Slaw
Potato Salad Basics
Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad

78 comments:

  1. My friend and I were having a Julia Child Day yesterday at my place, so I made a cucumber salad a la Julia--it's a similar recipe to yours, but I definitely had to add almost equal parts vinegar and sugar in order to avoid too strong a bite. We also added tomatoes and green onions for color, which gave it more of a Greek twist (but still tasted fantastic!). I'll have to try it again with your proportions--thanks for sharing, and hope you're still enjoying the warm weather as well!

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    1. Hi wallflourgirl, most salad recipes are pretty similar, aren't they? ;-) Your version sounds good. The water in this recipe dilutes the vinegar bite, so you can get by with less sugar — in fact I sometimes make it without any sugar, although I do like the flavor of vinegar. Thanks for your comment.

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    2. Haha true! I usually save this for marinated-style salads, but have you ever tried using this vinegar-based dressing for Chinese chicken salads (with a touch of pepper, salt, and sesame oil)? If you haven't, you definitely should. Talk about yum!

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    3. Wallflourgirl, great idea! I'll have to try that.

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  2. What a great simple salad that highlights the flavor of the cucumber. A few dashes of tobasco would be great! But then I put hot sauce (Cholula is my favorite) on just about everything. Cucumber salads always remind me of my mom who makes versions of this all summer long. Great post, thanks!

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    1. Hi Kristy, it's a great salad. So simple but wonderful flavor. You can really add all sorts of seasonings to this - cumin, coriander, etc. But dill adds such fresh, crisp flavor. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. And ps. I also love the vinegar flavor. A smidge of sugar is great but I don't like them too sweet.

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    1. Kristy, ditto! I cut down the sugar a bit from the original recipe. And although I often add it, I like it equally well without.

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  4. The best thing about your salad is the dill!!! IMHO nothing grabs the freshness of the quintessential Cucumber Salad like fresh dill!!!

    Thank so much for sharing...

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    1. Hi Louse, isn't dill great? Such good flavor, and I agree it's wonderful paired with cukes. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. I like the crispness, the freshness of cucumber. It's refreshing and you're right you could put any herbs and the flavors are in perfect harmony. I love to put chopped onions too... the tanginess of vinegar makes me pucker up ... and i love it!

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    1. Hi Malou, this is a really fun recipe to play with. As you say, it can take on so many different flavoring combos. Isn't the vinegar tang wonderful?! Thanks for your comment.

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  6. I love the combination of dill and cucumber! This must taste fantastic!

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    1. Hi Asmita, isn't it a classic combo? Such great flavor - it really does taste fantastic! Thanks for your comment.

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  7. Love how simple and fresh this is! I believe cucumber salad is commonly served with goulash in Hungary (along with spaetzel). My husband would love this, I'll definitely be making it soon.

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    1. Hi Katherine, isn't this so easy yet so tasty? You're right about this salad + goulash (and spaetzel) being a classic combo. I'm probably going to be doing goulash (and spaetzel) sometime this fall. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. Wow this is very similar to the Asian Cucumber Salad http://angsarap.net/2012/02/02/sweet-and-sour-cucumber-salad/ I will so like this.

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    1. Hi Raymund, it some ways it seems like there are only a dozen recipes in the world, and everything is a variation of something else! Your Asian Cuke Salad looks great - love that it's spicy. I'll have to give yours a try. Thanks for your comment.

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  9. I love cucumbers and I don't mind the seeds. My husband could live just fine if he never ate another cucumber. This is a perfect salad to make for one. :) It looks great.

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    1. Hi Maureen, I always leave the seeds in when I make it for us (we both like them) and remove them when I make it for company (because not everyone does). Looks better with the seeds, IMO. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. I love cucumbers and my father used to grow them when I was growing up so I'm very used to them. This is a great way to enjoy them xx

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    1. Hi Hotly Spiced, this really is a great way to enjoy cucumbers. I only make this a few times a year, and always wonder why I don't make it more often. Thanks for commenting.

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  11. Great photos of the humber cucumber. It always makes a refreshing summer salad.

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    1. Hi Karen, it is refreshing. And it's always fun to take a pretty simple subject and see what one can do in the photos. Thanks for your kind words, and your comment.

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  12. How easy is this recipe!! I love cucumbers and a light and refreshing salad is always welcome!

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    1. Hi Baker Street, this is one of the easiest recipes out there. This really is one that you'll make time and time again. Thanks for your comment.

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  13. I love cucumber salads and make one similar as well. Its always refreshing, light and goes down easy. I think it's perfect with BBQ, grilled fish and even on burgers. Nice post!

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    1. Hi Vicki, I think there must be an awful lot of variations of this salad - it's so simple and obvious, how can there not be? It's super with summer food, but goes surprisingly well with heavy cold weather meals, too. Thanks for your comment.

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  14. There's no question about your salad, John, but where did you get dill in this heat??? :) For a dill addict as I am leaving without dill is a torture. Dill doesn't like heat at all: we don't have dill in the garden, nor in the stores or Farmer's market.
    For someone, who bakes with dill, cooks with deal, and even makes tea with dill seeds, this salad is a winner! Can you see me leaning towards the monitor and sniffing dill off your photos?! :)
    Do they make perfume with dill?! :)

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    1. Hi Marina, that's supermarket dill - probably grown in a greenhouse. Our dill is long gone in all this heat. Supermarket stuff isn't bad, although a bit costly for what you get. Maybe I should start a pot indoors and see how it does. Thanks for your comment.

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    2. We don't have dill even in supermarkets... I use dry dill this time of the year... When it's in season again I'll freeze 10 lb or it! :)

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    3. No dill in the supermarket?! That's a tragedy! I'd wait to make this dish until you have fresh dill - it'll work better IMO.

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  15. So simple and so delicious! I love cucumbers in any form, especially with dill. :)

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    1. Hi Jeanne, it's a nice combo, isn't it? Now we just need to add some salmon with a dill sauce to this and we'd be in dill heaven! Thanks for your comment.

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  16. Simple yet elegant. I would love to give it a shot with cheese and whole-wheat bread, how's that? :D

    I love cheese and cucumber, separate as well as together :D

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    1. Hi leemz, having this with cheese and whole-wheat bread sounds might good to me! Delish, in fact. Thanks for your comment.

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  17. This salad absolutely looks stunning my friend, I'm loving it :D

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Choc Chip Uru, it's good stuff. Not chocolate, but darn good. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  18. Your salad would be welcome at my table, to be sure. No heavy dressing to mask the flavor nor freshness of the cucumbers. The beauty of this salad lies in its simplicity.

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    1. Hi ChgoJohn, you do taste the vinegar, but otherwise the flavor is all cucumber and dill - really a terrific dish. Thanks for your comment.

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  19. This looks so simple and spectacular in the photos - shame I don't like cucumbers. Perhaps zucchini peeled into ribbons would work as well?

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    1. Hi Suzanne, oh, too bad re not liking cukes! You could try this with zucchini, though I have my doubts. Maybe some of those sweet turnips that you can eat raw? Or maybe radishes? But let me know if you try the zucchini and it works. Thanks for your comment.

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  20. These cucumber slices look spectacular in your photos. You have made these plain looking cucumber look so glam and delicious with the dill and dressing. 100% convinced that this is a great salad!

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    1. Hi Zoe, it's always fun to reveal how pretty ordinary food can be. It really is a great salad. Thanks for your comment.

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  21. What a coincidence, I just posted a cucumber salad ;-)
    I love how this cucumber salad looks...very simple and refreshing. Beautiful pictures as well.
    Thanks for the recipe and hope you are having a nice week :)

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    1. Hi Juliana, well it's summer and cukes are in season, so maybe not so much of a coincidence! ;-) I'll have to check out your salad. Thanks for the comment.

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  22. I so appreciate sides that you can make ahead of time. Perfect for parties so you don't have to make everything five minutes before everyone arrives. ;)

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    1. Hi Carolyn, not have to rush at the last minute is the best part of this dish! One less thing to worry about. Thanks for your comment.

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  23. Dill makes everything better... love these.

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    1. Hi Tania, I agree that dill really is wonderful. Thanks for commenting.

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  24. This sounds like a wonderful cucumber salad. I love simple side dishes like this one.

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    1. Hi Words of Deliciousness, nothing better than something that's so easy and simple to make yet delivers such tremendous flavor. Really a nice dish to know. Thanks for your comment.

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  25. This looks fantastic on a hot summer day! I LOVE simple recipes, and this one looks so refreshing!

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    1. Hi Cathleen, it's good stuff. And simple usually works - this recipe certainly does! Thanks for your comment.

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  26. Fresh, healthy and delicious! I love the addition of dill.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, it's hard to go wrong with dill, isn't it? And this really is a tasty dish. Thanks for your comment.

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  27. I love cucumbers and any salad with cucumbers in them! We make a very similar recipe with tomatoes and red onion...we call it "floating salad" because all the vegetables float in the vinegar....delish! And, I agree, much better to be made ahead!

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    1. Hi Ali, I like the idea of adding tomatoes and red onion - they both combine quite well with cucumber. And anything I can make ahead I like! Thanks for the comment.

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  28. What a perfect recipe! I love salads (any type of food, actually) that can go from one season to the next.

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    1. Hi Beth, although this is a great summer salad, it may actually work better with hearty dishes - in part because we can still get quite decent cukes in the middle of winter. A really versatile dish. Thanks for commenting.

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  29. The cucumber is one of my faves to grow--until they stop growing owing to drought-ridden pests consuming said plants for their "water" input needs. I had one harvest, then none! This is the kind of salad the husband and I love to have around all summer! (The cookbook sounds really interesting. Must look into.)

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    1. Hi Kelly, our cucumber plants have just shut down - similar reason. That cookbook is great! If you like Hungarian food, its recipes are the real deal. Thanks for your comment.

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  30. Love these simple cucumbers! Great idea to add the dill! To make them spicy, add a few pepper flakes. I remember when Chinese restaurants would serve similar cucumber pickles as a complimentary item. I could make a meal from these! Beautiful clicks as always!!!

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    1. Hi MJ, the Chinese thing is such a good idea. Although this has a plain, straightforward flavor that's so nice. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  31. Sounds like very easy and quick to make salad. Love the fresh crunch cucumbers in the summer. I believe the dill makes all the difference.

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    1. Hi beyondkimchee, it really is a pretty simple and quick recipe. And I agree, dill is a wonderful flavor with cucumber. Thanks for the comment.

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  32. I adore simple recipes that are soooooo full of gorgeous flavor! I finally started eating the pickle cucumbers, I have no idea what took me so long. They are everywhere down here at my farmers markets, which I adore:-) I will definitely pick up cucumbers this weekend and enjoy this delicious recipe! Take care, Terra :-)

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    1. Hi Terra, simple and gorgeous pretty much describes this dish! Let me know whether you enjoy this recipe. Thanks for your comment.

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  33. You see Riffy, I tend to eat cucumbers only when they're toppings/decorations on a certain fried rice combination. I should change that habit! Its frightening but courage is within me! of course, a salad without mayo is another habit to kick! but trust me, I'll get there someday, with your countless tempting bargains, I will! ;D

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    1. Hi Pencil Kitchen, :-) There's a big world of food out there and lots of new stuff to experience! Fun comment - thanks for that.

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  34. I love cucumber salads and this one sound particularly refreshing.A friend of mine makes a similar salad but with zucchini. I am looking forward to trying the cucumber version

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    1. Hi Sawsan, I need to try a zucchini version of this - goodness knows they are plentiful at the moment! Thanks for commenting.

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  35. Such an easy salad to put together but good as a side especially with grilled meats. I need to make some for the weekend barbecue. Thanks for the recipe.

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    1. Hi Biren, this dish is delish with barbecue. I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for your comment.

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  36. it's crazy to say but I've been eating cucumber salad almost every week since the start of the summer. For the most part I use the tiny Indian cucumber and mix it with garlic vinegar sauce. I am glad to discover your dill flavored cucumber salad. I use dill a lot in making pickles but not so much in salad so this dish will be a great way for me to explore dill. Thanks for the recipe!

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    1. Hi Yi, a garlic vinegar sauce sounds wonderful. But the dill will make a nice change for you, I think. And the combo of cucumber and dill is wonderful. Thanks for your comment.

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  37. My gosh you cucumbers look so PERFECT! Love a refreshing simple salad like this, cleanses the palate and perfect for summer. :)

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    1. Hi Jenny, as I believe I said in a comment on one of your posts, the food styling is what kills me in taking photos - the actual photography is pretty simple (once you figure out what you're doing with light). I'm slowly getting better at the styling. And yes, this is a super salad for summer - but it's really good in winter, too, with hearty dishes. Thanks for the comment.

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