I turned 34 last week. Once upon a time, that meant that I’d be ripe for a mid-life in just a year or two, but the way things are going these days, barring any terrible illness, it’s only a third of my life at this point. Heaven knows what sort of crazy discoveries they’ll make in science 50 years from now. There are flecks of grey in my hair, and the one true marker of age that my face reveals are the laugh lines that form around my mouth when I smile. Although it’s a little scary, I tell myself that laugh lines are much more becoming than wrinkles and worry lines.
We didn’t have a big party this year. A friend of mine from college baked me the same carrot cake he baked me when I turned 19; I guess we’re on a 15-year schedule, so mark your calendar for 2027. There are not one, not two, but three birthday cards depicting cats doing cute things on my mantel. One friend brought me a small piece of fancy goat cheese aged in a grape leaf. Another friend brought me gray and smoked salt caramels. And another friend brought me a large bag of farro. My mother-in-law made me a gorgeous quilt in blues and greens. My in-laws also gave me a gift card to Barnes & Noble with a note suggesting that I might want to use it to buy a new cookbook. One of my brothers-in-law gave me a gift card from Williams-Sonoma. The same brother-in-law gave me a gift card for Sur La Table for Christmas. Am I that predictable? The stores actually face each other in the mall so part of me thinks he just flips a coin to decide which shop to pick me up a gift card from. I’m not complaining.
With the last gift card he bought me, I was able to replace the mortar and pestle that Rich had lost (along with his kitchen privileges) last year. Because I now once again have a mortar and pestle, for this past Shabbat dinner, I was able to make this cucumber with smashed garlic and ginger salad from Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian masterpiece Plenty (which I received for Christmas from another brother-in-law; the third gave me a gift card to Crate and Barrel). As I wrote a few months ago, I was a bit aggravated to discover I had ordered the wrong Ottolenghi at the library, but was thrilled with the recipes. Well, now that I have this cookbook, I understand what all the fuss was about.
This cucumber salad takes a little bit of time. The red onions sit in the dressing of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and sugar for about an hour which mellows them and removes any sort of bite. The recipe also calls for Maldon salt flakes. If you can’t find it readily available in your area, Amazon has it, although it’s actually much cheaper at Whole Foods. It doesn’t have to be Maldon; any flakey salt will do.
Finally, this salad comes with a warning: Be very careful when tasting it to make sure everything is seasoned right. I almost ate the entire dish on the counter with my fingers. It’s that kind of salad. You’ll notice that I didn’t manage to stage a shot. Getting too near this salad meant I would eat it. We ate this alongside the cabbage and baked tofu dish. It was perfect.
Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger
Serves 4 – 6 as a condiment or a side salad
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp sunflower oil (I use olive with no unfortunate results)
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1 ½ inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 tsp Maldon sea salt
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
4 small (or 8 mini) cucumbers (1 ¼ lbs.) peeled
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
To make the dressing. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.
Add the sliced red onion, mix well and leave aside to marinate for about an hour.
Place the ginger and salt in a mortar and pound well with a pestle. Add the garlic and continue pounding until it is also well crushed and broken into pieces (stop pounding before it disintegrates into a paste). Use a spatula to scrape the contents of the mortar into the bowl with the onion and dressing. Stir together.
Cut the cucumbers lengthwise in half, then cut each half on an angle into ¼ -inch-thick slices. Add the cucumber to the bowl, followed by the sesame seeds and cilantro. Stir well and leave to sit for 10 minutes.
Before serving, stir the salad again, tip out some of the liquid that has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl, and adjust the seasoning.