The ‘Dressing’ on This Cucumber Salad Has Two Ingredients

Photo: Claire Lower
Photo: Claire Lower

I have been eating cucumber, tomato and onion salad since I was old enough to eat solid foods, and I have been making it since I was old enough to wield a kitchen knife. Over the two and half decades since, the ingredients have not changed. Besides the vegetables (and fruits, technically), you only need two of them: garlic salt and mayo.

Those two ingredients may not sound like a complete dressing, but it works. My grandmother — who hated the act of cooking — always took the shortest, most streamlined path to getting food on the table. I don’t think she ever smashed, peeled or even purchased a clove of fresh garlic, but garlic salt was ubiquitous in her dishes (as was mayo — we are talking about a white northern Mississippi kitchen, after all).

Anyway. The umami-packed juices and gel from the tomatoes and pungent bite from raw onion mix with the mayonnaise and garlic salt to create a balanced and surprisingly refreshing dressing. Even I, a woman who is prone to fiddling with recipes, have resisted the urge to fiddle with this not-quite-dressing. I have, however, fiddled with the way the cucumbers are prepped.

If you’ve ever had a Sichuan cucumber salad, you probably noticed that those cucumbers are smashed, rather than sliced. You probably also noticed that those craggy, jagged edges hold on to dressing better than slick, sliced circles. So, I smash my cukes, then toss them with sliced onions and give them a good (garlic) salting. Such a preliminary salting not only removes a good bit of excess moisture, it flavours the cucumbers and softens the onions, alleviating some of their acrid tang. The tender onions and savoury cucumbers are then tossed with sliced tomatoes and mayo, and the salad is complete.

To make this minimalist summer side, you will need:

  • 6 small cucumbers (Persian are preferable)
  • 1/2 of a medium sweet onion (red also works)
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (or two cups of larger tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, plus more for finishing
  • 1-2 tablespoons of your favourite mayonnaise

Wash the cucumbers and place them in a 4 litre freezer bag. Close the bag, then hit the cukes with something heavy (mallet, soup ladle, wine bottle) to break them up into craggy pieces. (You don’t want to completely obliterate them; snap any long stubborn pieces in two with your hands.) Place the cucumber pieces in a colander set over a bowl. Slice the onion into thin, half-moon slices, then add those to the colander with the cucumbers. Sprinkle the vegetables with 1/2 a teaspoon of garlic salt, tossing to coat, then let drain for half an hour, or until the onions have softened.

Add the cucumbers and onions to a large bowl, and toss with tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of mayo. Taste and add more garlic salt and mayo as needed, and serve immediately (it keeps alright for a few hours, but the tomatoes will continue to give off moisture as they sit, so keep that in mind). You can also add pepper, a splash of vinegar, crispy bacon bits or any damn thing you please — but do try it unadorned; you may find joy in the streamlined simplicity of a barely dressed pile of plant parts.

Log in to comment on this story!