It’s warming up this side of the hemisphere (too hot for the oven today) and our garden is galloping along head first into Spring. The cucumbers have grown from petite cornichons into heaving goliaths and are ready to pick within two weeks of appearing on the vine.
The poor salad is often considered the side dish, but this version of cucumber salad matches any competitor, bite for bite. While to some a cucumber salad may seem a little lacking, the combination of flavours in this concoction will have you coming back for more.
In my travels though Scandinavia I’ve noticed the locals like their salads clean and minimal, like their kitchens. Not too many ingredients and those included should really shine. Beetroot salad, mushroom salad, carrot salad…and this recipe is no different. The cucumber is the hero.
I’m often surprised when people tell me that cucumber is insipid or lacking in flavour. To me it’s one of the most flavourful of salad vegetables – with a heady freshness that instantly makes me think of summers by the lake, smoked fish and midnight paddles out and about in the old boat.
Essentially you’re creating a fresh pickle with this salad. The vinegar salt and sugar begin to cure the cucumbers, leaving them silky but still with a good crunch and mouth-watering tartness.
3 cucumbers (Lebanese or continental)
1 thinly sliced fennel bulb
A good slug (3 tablespoons) of Apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 tablespoon of salt flakes (or to taste)
A medium sized bunch of dill
Thinly slice the cucumber using a mandolin, food processor or as finely as you can by hand. If you’re making a large amount for guests go ahead and use the food processor, it’ll be worth it. It’s also quite lovely if you ribbonise the cucumbers with a vegetable peeler.
Repeat the process with the fennel bulb. You want these really thinly sliced. The addition of the slivers of aniseed flavour really adds to the freshness.
I hadn’t eaten a lot of fennel until moving to Scandinavia; and now I associate its fresh crunch with my memories of zipping through cities in Europe by train. Surprisingly fennel grows wild along railway lines in many European cities – so if you ever find yourself roaming the abandoned city limits foraging for wild food – there’s fennel aplenty.
Combine the vinegar, salt and sugar and pour over the cucumber and fennel. Allow this to sit in the fridge for up to an hour while you prepare the rest of your meal.
Remove from the fridge and serve cool. NOTE: If the salad is too filled with liquid lift the cucumber our and retain a little of the pickling liquid for dressing.
Serve with coriander and fennel seed encrusted salmon and an icy cold Hendricks’s Gin and tonic… with cucumber, of course.