A Caribbean Cucumber Salad Recipe (in a jar)

Summer is finally here and immediately the oppressive heat and humidity that NYC is famous for makes me crave lighter fare.

I can’t say if it was the plant-based diet, the evolution of the palate or simply old age that pushed me to look for much simpler preparations. I now even want a good salad. Not as a starter but as a main course. Just a few years ago, a salad served much the same purpose as a bouquet of flowers on my table; indispensable furnishings whose only tangible role is nothing more than to complement the optics for gorging on the meat, starch, and much larger booze that dominates the big stage.

Those days are quickly becoming a distant memory as I now travel far and wide to find markets with good produce, preferably locally grown by someone who genuinely cares about their journey from seed to fork. These attributes are the start of a transformative salad and it’s now my way of rolling.

My last craving was cucumber salad. English cucumbers to be exact, also known as seedless cucumbers or European cucumbers, they are a little denser than standard cukes, lacking the huge seedbed found in the center of the layman’s cucumber. These also tend to be a bit longer and can weigh up to a pound or more, making one cucumber enough for one person to consume.

I’m also obsessed with the prep trick I came up with to make this simple salad.

Let me explain:

I’ve used many different sized mason jars recently for sprouting and have since found many additional uses for them, including this particular find.

I have two different screw caps for the jars. One is the standard solid top, the other is a non-traditional mesh top with feet, which acts like a strainer to keep my washed sprouts from getting waterlogged as they push through the bottle.

I have found these jars make it easy to clean, dry and season a salad, and in this case also to drain water from salted cucumbers.

For salads and herbs, I’ll put the fresh leaves in the bottle with water and vegetable wash, cover with the sturdy lid and shake it vigorously to loosen the dirt and grit from the leaves, then cap colander to remove water and dirt while keeping the leaves in place. If there are large particles that do not pass through the strainer, then I will remove the cap while remaining upside down and remove any particles caught in the mesh. I’ll then reseal the jar and keep shaking to dry the veggies enough that I don’t need to use a salad spinner before dressing them. I actually don’t keep salad spinners in my small kitchen because they’re so bulky and most of them are a pain to wash.

I now take it a step further by adding the dressing to the leaves still inside the jar and cover with the sturdy cap and again I shake the rattle and roll to get full coverage of the dressing on my freshly cleaned leaves . I then strain the excess dressing, put my well-dressed salad on a plate, and reuse the leftover dressing for another salad preparation. GENIUS!

As for the cucumber salad, salting the cucumber and letting it sit for about 30 minutes to remove excess water will greatly improve the end product as it will not leach much more water onto the plated dish, nor will it will dilute the flavors of any dressing. you choose to coat the cucumbers. I like to cut cucumbers into many different shapes for the sake of aesthetics and different textures and levels of crunch while enjoying the salad. What can I say, I get bored easily, and when you eat as many cucumbers as I do, you keep looking for new ways to build excitement around them. I haven’t lost sight that cucumbers can seem very boring to most people. I will thinly slice some on a mandolin, I can cut thicker rounds, and I can just cut random shapes while turning the cucumber after each cut.

I will then lightly salt them while still on the cutting board, then stuff them into the mason jar, add a mesh lid, and invert for 30 minutes to allow the water to drain from the brining process. You can collect this liquid and use it in another dish; you can drink it or throw it away. At this point, all you need to do is add your dressing to the jar of pickled cukes and activate the sturdy lid to shake. Strain the excess dressing for future salads and you can now plate your amazingly well-coated cucumber salad, or you can re-apply a sturdy cover and take it on the road or store it in the fridge for later use. If I happen to have any cherry tomatoes early in bloom, I’ll cut them in half and add them to the jar before shaking them to add a touch of summer and to allow some of their juices to add flavor. the complexity to the simple vinaigrettes that I prefer. . In most cases, I go for my holy trinity for salad dressings which boil down to fresh lemon juice, my BEST olive oil and a dollop of stone ground mustard. It’s the dressing room to which I can add a little something else here or there depending on my mood. In this case, I only added feta cheese to the salad to elevate and add protein.

The total experience of this simple combination is far greater than the sum of its parts.

SUMMER CUCUMBER SALAD

1 large whole English cucumber, cut into 3 equal pieces

2 teaspoons of salt

4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon stone-ground mustard

½ teaspoon of maple syrup

6 cherry tomatoes, halved

¼ cup crumbled vegan Feta cheese

METHOD:

Thinly slice the first piece of cucumber on a mandolin, cut the next into ¼-inch rounds, and the last can be cut into randomly shaped small pieces while turning the cucumber.

Salt all the cut cucumbers thoroughly and then add them to a mason jar with a mesh lid. Invert the jar to allow drainage for 30 minutes.

Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, mustard and maple syrup until well incorporated.

Add the dressing to the mason jar with the cherry tomatoes, cover with a sturdy cap and shake vigorously for a few seconds until the cucumbers are well coated with the dressing.

Strain the dressing for future use and now you can put the cucumber salad on a plate, top with crumbled vegan or regular feta cheese and enjoy. It will also keep in the jar for a few days, although the cucumbers will get noticeably softer and waterier over time.

Culinary Institute of America alumnus Nigel Spence was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel was a freelancer at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged victorious in the kitchen against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show, Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed, New York Times-rated Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr. Spence’s first entrepreneurial project.

Michael M. Tomlin