Cool cucumbers, trendy tahini – this NYTimes Julia Moskin’s recipe must be as stylish as they get.
I finally got to use the tahini I’d bought around the time I was gifted two Ottolenghi cookbooks. Ottolenghi is all about tahini, pomegranate molasses and yoghurt, isn’t he? So I set out to be well prepared.
The jar of tahini remained unopened though, even though I went through quite a few recipes from the cookbooks. It turned out my preconceptions were wrong, as preconceptions generally tend to be. Somehow, I kept picking all the, albeit delicious, tahini-less recipes. Or maybe it’s because I’m not very keen on hummus.
What is tahini?
It is of Middle eastern, Levantine and North African provenience. It basically is sesame butter, made by grinding sesame seeds, in the same way as peanut or almond butters are made. It’s the crucial ingredient, as mentioned, in hummus, baba ghanoush and in halva.
It also works a treat as an addition to carrot cake, which probably not many people beside me and Dan Leppard know.
Personally, I think it’s a bit gross. Terribly viscous, it tastes like sesame overkill and the texture is unmistakably that of mixed plaster. There is nothing creamy about it, and everything gritty. It’s how I imagine eating mud must feel.
So that’s another reason my jar stayed untouched for so long.
Lobbying for cucumber
Cucumbers are the underdog of the salad world, especially in the UK where the growers don’t know when to stop letting them grow. The common ‘salad cucumber’ is an enormous animal, full of water and seeds, with not much flavour at all.
Ridge cucumbers are marginally better, but thankfully I have also started spotting the mini cukes on the market stalls and in supermarkets. Believe it or not, it will be the same varieties as the giant ones, only picked at the right time.
Small cucumbers have tightly packed, soft seeds that need not be removed and the flavour is concentrated. Crunchy and crisp, it needs more of our attention because it’s refreshing, rich in phytonutrients, vitamins and potassium. And it’s positively negative (hahaha) in calorie content.
Cucumbers with tahini dressing
Modest cuke makes the perfect foil for trendy tahini in this salad. The dressing, with lime and garlic, cumin and oregano is no longer sesame overkill and even the texture feels smooth without a hint of mud.
To make the dressing, start with crushed garlic whisked with lime juice, then add tahini. That’s when it almost solidifies (like plaster) and makes your heart sink.
But only a little warm water loosens it up very quickly so you need to stir and adjust, add a few more drops and stir again until it resembles dressing rather than preparations for an orthopaedic cast.
A little olive oil and oregano-cumin powder make the finishing touch.
The cucumbers could be just chopped, peeled or unpeeled, whichever you prefer, but I like to make them crunchier by draining some water from their content.
That’s done by sprinkling the chunks with salt and a little sugar and leaving them in a sieve set over a bowl. The salt draws moisture out, at the same time doing the initial seasoning job. This will happen within up to half an hour on the kitchen worktop or through several hours in the fridge.
Afterwards, after a shake and a pat dry, they are ready to meet the dressing.
You might think the dish would be quite in your face, with tahini plus extra sesame seeds sprinkled on, but it isn’t at all – it’s pleasantly fresh. It’s a good lunchtime dish, accompanied by some nice bread, but also a side. Try it with grilled beef burgers, just the patties sans bun: an amazingly good combination.
More cucumber recipes
Fiery bacon, cool cucumber and mild new potatoes in a warm salad. The bacon and cucumber salad on its own will make a great spicy snack; with potatoes it is a main course.
Radish, cucumber and herb salad, the healthiest plate imaginable. This is a super easy recipe based on sabzi khordan, Persian fresh herb platter.
Chinese smashed cucumber salad with rice vinegar. Make this Asian smashed cucumbers salad as spicy as you like with either chili flakes or red pepper flakes.