Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Russian Salad

All right, I know I’ve already done my fair share of whining about the end of summer on this blog, but will you indulge me for just a little while longer? See, last night Mike and I ate the kind of meal that I know I will daydream about during the dark, cold winter months. Right now with the onset of fall I’m finding the prospect of rich soups and stews exciting, but I know once January hits and I’m staring down yet another root vegetable my mind will inevitably wander back to the simple freshness of summer meals. In this case, grilled teriyaki salmon and zucchini, quinoa with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, corn on the cob (my very favorite food), and the tomato-and-cucumber concoction my family refers to as “Russian Salad.”

I really don’t know why, since my family is Russian and many of the salads served at my parent’s house are decidedly influenced by that heritage, this particular salad was bestowed that title. But that mystery is not what matters here. What matters is that, after you see the brief list of ingredients for this salad, you must not turn up your nose and dismiss it as something that could only be enjoyed by Eastern Europeans. Please trust me when I tell you that sour cream, when combined with juicy, garden-fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, loses its thick creamy density and transforms instead into a pleasantly light, tangy, pink (!) dressing that some of us (not going to mention any names here) have been known to slurp from the bottom of the bowl after the substantial part of the salad has been eaten.

Earlier this summer I made a variation of this salad from one of Ina Garten’s cookbooks. It was way more complicated and not nearly as good. I think simplicity definitely wins out in this case. However, because this recipe is so simple, you want to use only the best and freshest ingredients. Meaning underripe hothouse tomatoes and flavorless cucumbers aren’t gonna cut it. Use only the tomatoes and cucumbers that you would want to eat all by themselves; the kind that (sigh) are only available in the summer.

Russian Salad

1 ripe tomato (I used a bunch of halved cherry tomatoes in the photo above)
1 ripe cucumber
½ small red onion, thinly sliced (I usually leave this out)
Sour cream
Salt, to taste
Minced fresh dill, if desired (I rarely have the dill on hand-this salad is fine without it but even better with the dill)

1) Peel cucumber and cut in half lengthwise, then thinly slice.
2) Cut tomato into pieces approximately the size of the cucumber
3) Combine tomato, cucumber and onion (if using) in a bowl and add a heaping tablespoon (the eating kind, not a measuring spoon) of sour cream.
4) Stir together and add salt and dill to taste. You can also add more sour cream if you think it’s necessary. It’s hard to add too much because the excess will just get watery and sit in the bottom of the bowl- it won’t coat the other ingredients.
5) Let the salad sit for about 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

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