Tomato and cucumber salad: the ultimate Russian summer salad
July 11, 2010 in Recipes · 3 comments
When my husband and I were looking for an apartment last year, the house that we ended up moving into first caught my attention precisely because it was a house rather than an apartment. Actually, it’s a duplex, with separate living spaces on the upper and lower levels. Because of the way the land slopes, our unit is on second-floor level on two sides of the house and on ground level on the remaining two sides. Adjacent to the two ground-level sides of our unit is a tiny piece of land. Basically, it’s a flower bed and a small rectangular lawn out front and a narrow strip of grass on the other side.
I’d never really had space to garden before, and I was itching to get started when we moved into the house. Our landlords asked that we preserve the space in front of the house as is but allowed us to use the side strip for growing produce. So, just days after we moved in, we planted two little tomato plants next to the house, and, in another week or two, added two or three cucumber plants. (We also planted peas that year, but either we did it too late or else they caught some kind of a disease – they never grew very well and produced maybe 10-15 pods at most.) Before we knew it, those little tomato starts grew into giant bushes nearly as tall as I am and produced abundant cherry and Health Kick tomatoes well into October or possibly even early November. The cucumbers did fairly well, too, although our harvest was not as plentiful, in part because some cucumbers mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night, usually right on the eve of when I was planning to harvest them.
On a few occasions last year, we had enough of both kinds of our homegrown veggies to make tomato and cucumber salad. In the US, when you say “salad,” people typically think of lettuce-based green salad. In Russia, most people would conjure up an image of tomato and cucumber salad. It is served with lunch or dinner in homes all across Russia throughout the summer. The basic must-have ingredients are tomatoes and cucumbers, and most people add some chopped herbs, usually dill and/or parsley, the two most popular herbs in Russian cooking. Some also like to add thinly sliced raw onions. The dressing is usually oil, oil and vinegar, sour cream, or mayonnaise. A sprinkling of salt and, often, pepper finishes this simple dish.
This year, we are gardening again. We have three tomato plants by the side of the house and a bunch of cucumber plants in a large box on our south-facing deck. Dill and parsley are sprouting in their containers, also out on the deck. We got off to a late start this year because of the unusually wet and cold spring, and all the plants still have a long way to go until harvest season, so at this point our tomato and cucumber salad looks to be weeks away. However, if your plants are already bearing fruit or if you purchase your tomatoes and cucumbers at the store or at the farmer’s market, go ahead and give this recipe a try today!
Tomato and cucumber salad
2 medium to large tomatoes
½ large slicing cucumber or 2 smaller pickling cucumbers
5-6 sprigs each fresh dill and fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Dressing: your favorite oil; oil and vinegar; sour cream (use full-fat plain yogurt to approximate the taste of Russian sour cream); or mayonnaise
Chop the tomatoes into roughly 1 inch pieces. I like to cut each tomato in half lengthwise, remove the part where the stem was attached, cut each half lengthwise into 4 or 5 wedges, and then cut each wedge crosswise into 2 or 3 pieces.
Peel the cucumber if the skin is too tough or bitter; otherwise, leave the skin on. If using a large cucumber, cut it into quarters lengthwise, then slice ¼ inch thin. If using smaller cucumbers, halve them lengthwise, then slice.
Remove the tough parts of the stems from the dill and parsley and chop the herbs finely.
Mix the herbs with the chopped tomatoes and cucumbers and toss with salt, pepper, and your choice of dressing immediately before serving.