Not-Your-Grandmother’s Cucumber Herb Salad

When I was a kid, almost all summer gatherings at my grandparents’ house included corn on the cob and my Nana’s vinegar cucumber “salad.”  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about (though I find that hard to imagine) this salad is essentially sliced cucumbers soaked in a dressing of white vinegar, water, some sugar, salt, pepper, and maybe dill or parsley (if you want to be fancy about it). Opinions were often divided; the cucumbers were either delicious, or totally gross.  But it was a staple.  And even though I’ll probably never have this salad again, it will remain in my memory, and always make me think of my Nana (and those woven plastic outdoor chairs from the 60s or somewhere that emerged every summer).  And though I love you, Nana, perhaps that cucumber salad, along with those chairs, should stay a fond memory of the past.  It wasn’t my intention, but tonight I managed to elevate that cucumber salad to a new, fresh, and sophisticated level…

As I meandered out to our vegetable and herb garden (which got off to a rocky start this year, and I’ll write about that at a later date) I was trying to think of what I could do with the limited items in our fridge and what has already grown large enough to start snipping from our garden to create something fresh to go with dinner.  I had found an unopened package of feta cheese in the fridge which had become my inspiration, and I was determined to use it.  (I feel the need to back up and say to those of you who may be thinking that it’s uncharacteristic of me to NOT KNOW what’s in the fridge or what exactly we’re having for supper, you are right.  But summertime brings an “uncharacteristic” spontaneity to our family which leaves little time for grocery shopping or meal planning during it’s regularly “scheduled” time. Plus, we just came off of a holiday weekend which throws my typical routine to the wind anyway.)  I had managed to find some chicken in the freezer and we had a bag of potatoes so I planned on having grilled chicken and potato salad, but I wanted something else (and preferably green) to go with it.

So with my feta cheese in one hand, and kitchen shears in the other, I stood outside pondering my garden.  When Randy and I were in Greece, I absolutely loved their salads; they were simple and fresh, filled with cucumber, feta, oil, and vinegar.  Now I had even more inspiration.  I decided I would do an herbed cucumber salad.  I scanned our herb section and picked some mint, basil, parsley, and dill.  I also grabbed some arugula and lettuce to add to the cucumbers (that I got from the fridge, since our cucumber plants didn’t quite take off this year–or, I may have pulled them accidentally at one point.  Again, I’ll write about that later.) 😉  Now it was time to chop, combine, and dress the salad.

IMG_9752I chopped up my herbs (mint and dill are strong herbs, so I used a little less of those than the basil and parsley, but overall my quantities were pretty uniform).  I sliced the cucumbers and tore the lettuce and arugula.  I tossed my greens into a glass bowl and crumbled in about 2 oz of feta cheese.  I drizzled over a little extra virgin olive oil and instead of distilled white vinegar, I chose champagne vinegar (basically white wine vinegar) and sprinkled in some salt and pepper.

IMG_9753Mixed everything together, and this made a perfect burst of freshness alongside our creamy potato salad and spinach-and-cream-cheese-stuffed-chicken!  And I have to say, this salad far exceeded my expectations.  I loved it!  I didn’t finish my chicken or potatoes, but I’m not embarrassed to say that I polished off the bowl of this salad.  I can’t wait to make it again.  I’m thinking maybe lunch tomorrow and a few chopped red onions in there, as well…

Perfect summer meal when you don’t want the oven on!  Potato salad made in the morning before the real heat of the day, chicken grilled outside, and no cooking required for the salad!  Now, if you’re one to break a sweat while chopping herbs, then I’m afraid I can’t help you. 😉

P.S. If you’re looking for other ideas to use your herbs this summer, I’ve had great success with herbed butter (take a room-temperature stick of butter and mashed in some chopped parsley, chives, maybe dill or basil, depending on the flavor profile you’re looking for, roll the butter into a log and refrigerate).  You can also combine scallions, chives, parsley, and dill with some room temperature sour cream, cream cheese, and mayo for a great veggie dip!  The possibilities are endless…

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