By Gini Rainey
I can’t think of anything better to do in the summer than have friends over for an evening of conversation along with burgers cooked on the grill. So that’s exactly what we did last night. It was a great evening with the summer heat diminishing as the sun went down, and the cicadas cranking it up to a beautifully loud and familiar summertime concert. Of course, from time to time, the cicadas were so stinking loud they nearly drowned out the conversation! Good friends, good food, and good conversation – a perfect combination.
One of the things that I served last night was a marinated cucumber, onion, and tomato salad. There’s something about this dish that just screams “summer” to me and really goes nicely with hamburgers. My mom would do the version that had sour cream in it, which was great with a heavier meal, but mine is so light and fresh, it doesn’t seem to weigh you down when you eat it. Of course, this is the perfect season to be making this salad because the markets are flooded with tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as lots of other fresh vegetables. I just wish I had the time to fill up a shopping cart full of them and have a blast trying out the ones I’ve not had before.
I bought a book last week for my ‘library,’ and although not necessarily a cookbook, it is loaded with interesting facts about common garden vegetables. “Blue Corn & Square
Tomatoes” by Rebecca Rupp was published in 1987 by Storey Communications, Inc., and explores the origins, history, propagation, and uses of many of the common vegetables we take for granted. Whether it’s the fact that archaeologists uncovered a basket of onions in the ruins of Pompeii in the biggest and best brothel in town, or that it was customary among the Romans to precede their gargantuan banquets with refreshing lettuce salads in the belief that lettuce enhanced the appetite and relaxed the (ahem) alimentary canal, or that hot pea soup was peddled in the streets of Athens, while fried peas were sold to spectators, in lieu of popcorn, at the Roman circus and in theaters, this book covers it all.
If you’re a history buff, a cook, or a gardener, this book should be of interest for you. While Rupp traces the origin of scientific and common names, including the onion (from the Latin unio, meaning united) and “spud” (from the Gaelic “spade”), she also investigates the poor reputations of many of our now most popular vegetables – including lettuce, tomatoes (thought to be either an aphrodisiac or a poison), and potatoes (suspected of being Eve’s “forbidden fruit”).
So, even though the marinated cucumber salad is something most of you already know how to make, there might just be a few out there who would like to know exactly how to do it. For yesterday’s salad, I pared two cucumbers (about 7 inches in length) and then sliced them into ¼ inch rounds. I cut in half about 1 cup of grape tomatoes and thinly sliced half a medium sized onion. Then I whisked together 1 cup water, ½ cup white vinegar, ¼ cup vegetable oil, ¼ cup sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 tablespoon fresh, coarsely ground pepper. If you want to add a little extra special flavor to your salad, try a bit of minced frsh mint or dill. Then I poured the marinade over the cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions in a glass bowl, covered with plastic wrap and chilled for about 2 hours before serving. So good – and so easy!