Fresh kirby cukes from the farmers’ market are the foundation of an excellent — and very easy — cold cucumber soup (left) and a sweet-and-sour salad from Carol Ungar’s cookbook, “Jewish Soul Food.”
There’s nothing like a just-picked summer cucumber from the farmers’ market — or the garden, if you happen to be so lucky. It’s crisper and sweeter and just generally more flavorful than the cukes we buy year round at the grocery store. I particularly like the little kirbies — the ones that look like they’re just waiting to become pickles. When I see them these days, I buy them in bulk. And they go fast.
I’ll do some pickling later in the season, but right now I’m enjoying my cucumbers fresh — blended into soup, sliced or roughly cut into salads, as a base for little smoked salmon canapés, and often just raw, out of hand, like a peach or a plum. (Cucumbers, like tomatoes, are technically a fruit. Who knew?)
I picked up a cookbook called “Jewish Soul Food” by Carol Ungar, and noticed a recipe for sweet-and-sour cucumber salad. I love this classic deli salad and often buy Zabar’s version. But it’s so simple to make, and I found the balance of flavors in Ungar’s recipe to be perfect.
I also appreciated the headnote Ungar wrote to accompany the recipe. She notes that the salad is a perfect dish for the third Sabbath meal, because it gets better and better as it sits in the fridge in its sweet-and-sour brine. She goes on to recall childhood memories of her father making this salad — a bit of nostalgia that’s right up my alley, as I’m always connecting my food to personal and collective history.
Speaking of which, my mother used to make a lovely, simple cold cucumber soup. I remember asking her for the recipe over the phone one summer when I was in my early 20s and about to host one of my first dinner parties. I still have the scribbled recipe. This week I made it, tweaked only slightly.
Here, then, a pair of easy, delicious no-cook recipes, which make the most of summer cucumbers.
By the way, I’m looking forward to exploring “Jewish Soul Food” further. Ungar makes frequent mention of her Hungarian heritage, and it must be because we share that background that so many of the traditional Eastern-European dishes in her book feel so familiar and enticing to me. Stay tuned.
Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her at @lifedeathdinner