Cucumber Salad with Radishes, Chilies, and a Sweet Soy Dressing

Rectangular plate with cucumber, radish, and chilies garnished with cilantro. On a white, slate, and red tablecloth.

Last week I had the biggest craving for a cucumber salad made with sour cream, yogurt, and fresh dill. I followed a recipe I found online and as excited as I was to eat it, the taste was far too rich and almost cloying – I wanted a crunchy salad with vibrant flavours, not wisps of cucumber floating limply in a creamy pool of dressing. I’ve had really good cucumber salads in the past, so I know they’re a real that actually exists, but the experience led to my thinking about other cucumber salads that would still have that crunchy texture and sweet, tangy, and salty taste. I lost interest in the dairy and instead looked to the classic combination of dark sesame oil, soy sauce, and honey for an equally effective but simple dressing – much lighter overall but definitely bigger in flavour. The fresh dill became cilantro and I added thin slices of radish, scallion, and tiny red chilies to add a peppery heat and a beautiful contrast to the cool green cucumber slices.

cucumber salad with radishes, chilies, and a sweet soy dressing:

4 Lebanese cucumbers, skin left intact and sliced into thick half-moons (or, use 1 peeled and de-seeded English cucumber)

4 radishes, cut into paper-thin slices

4 scallions, whites and greens cut into thin slices

2-3 small red chilies, sliced thinly (include seeds for maximum heat)

1 large handful of cilantro, roughly torn into small pieces

2 Tbsp. dark sesame oil

3 Tbsp. soy sauce (or tamari)

1 tsp. honey or sugar

  1. Combine the cucumber, radishes, scallions, chilies, and cilantro in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, and honey and pour over the salad ingredients. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving, although the salad can sit for a few hours (dressed) before eating.

Oh, my heart.

If you’re a Canadian reading this blog you’ll know what I mean when I express that small, sad utterance. Gordon Downie, poet and singer for The Tragically Hip, played his (possible) final concert on Saturday night in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma earlier this year and made the decision to tour Canada with The Hip one last time – marking an overwhelming and emotional month of live music that has managed to pull Canada together as a community despite its vast geography and problems, in a way that transcends patriotism into something much deeper. It’s difficult to explain their music to non-Canadians, rightly or wrongly we’ve claimed them as our own and our relationship to The Tragically Hip is deeply personal and one we feel needs protecting. If you want to watch their final show, bursting with presence and a shaking hand in the face of impending death, CBC broadcast it live and the whole country gathered around TV screens, in parks, and in local theatres to take this deep breath together. Screaming in the face of all our certain fates and raging against the dying light, the show was spectacular.

And so, if I had to pick, and it’s very difficult, I would say that the song Lofty Pines off of Downie’s solo album Coke Machine Glow will be my pick for this entry. I listened to a lot of Tragically Hip over the weekend, but on Sunday I wanted the softness of this particular record. The real Lofty Pines Motel is now permanently closed, but I’ve driven past it several times when it was open on the way to my aunt and uncle’s cottage in the Muskokas. This song is lazy and drawling in the sense that it immediately floods in the smell of pine, the orange needles littering the ground which opens your ears to the cracking sounds of a dry forest floor, while at the same time muting the forest as though it was covered in a soft blanket. Barring a deeper reading of the lyrics, this song makes me feel like I’m lying on a bed in a wooden cottage, reading a bad cottage book, smelling the outside through the screen window.

“Well, I dreamed of the Lofty Pines-
at least what I thought they were-
standing in the forest after nighttime,
swaying so cool and sure.
Sure had never been so wrong;
sure like the title of the perfect song.”

Gordon Downie – Lofty Pines

Chickpea and Cucumber Salad with a Creamy Lemon, Parsley, and Avocado Dressing

Heart-shaped plate full chickpea and cucumber salad and 2 pieces of sour dough toast.

This is a bright and immensely flavourful variation on a chickpea salad, ideal for eating with a loaf of buttered sourdough toast from Batard Bakery in Vancouver (kindly gifted by one of our guests over the weekend at the cocktail party Ian and I hosted). I went for a long walk on an empty stomach along Jericho Beach this afternoon to take pictures in the rain, and I was in full need of comfort and carbohydrates by the time I got home. I put this together in less than 10 minutes, leaving it to sit for about 15 minutes while I dried off and made a cup of Constant Comment tea (thank you again, to another guest at the party – I always have trouble finding this particular kind of tea). This chickpea salad would be wonderful in a warm pita with some extra dressing or tzatziki, I can imagine it would taste pretty wonderful alongside some cumin-rubbed lamb as either a hot meal or a cold spread that demands a thorough pick through. You can add more lemon juice if you’d like, the zest would also serve to brighten the taste of the dressing even further. A pinch of cayenne wouldn’t be remiss here, nor would some barely blanched broccoli florets and toasted sunflower seeds.

Jericho Beach on a rainy day.

chickpea and cucumber salad with a creamy lemon, parsley, and avocado dressing:

1 can of chickpeas, rinsed

1 medium-sized cucumber, sliced into thin or quarter half moons

1/4 of a red onion, finely diced

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 avocado, flesh scooped out with a spoon

Generous 1 cup of parsley, loosely torn

1 clove of garlic, smashed

1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1/2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 cup of olive oil

  1. In a large bowl mix together the chickpeas, cucumber, and red onion.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a food processor, scraping down the sides several times in order to ensure a perfectly creamy dressing. It’s entirely OK if the parsley isn’t completely blitzed, in fact I think it makes the salad look more appetizing.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and stir to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving – the lemon in the dressing will help prevent avocado dressing discolouration, so it will keep in the fridge for a few days after it’s made.

My friend and I were talking about all of the music our parents listened to while we were growing up, it seems like we have a lot of common musical tastes now because of what was on the record player while we were children; I also have a very clear memory of being told “Don’t dance too close to the record player! No jumping near the record player, the record will skip!”. Now as an adult I can very easily admit that the excellent music I heard at home absolutely formed my relationship to music as I currently experience it. I also never jump or dance around the record player, ever.

English Beat – Save it For Later

Jericho Beach 2

Quick Pomegranate and Cucumber Salad

When Vancouver returns to its natural state of rainy grey I find myself turning to food for brightness, this isn’t particularly difficult when purple-green winter kale, electric mandarin oranges and pomegranates resembling the imaginary seeds of blood red roses flood the grocery store produce aisle. Both the cucumber and pomegranate seeds provide the most satisfying crunch as the salad is being eaten so pair it with roast lamb or crispy falafel stuffed pitas (or eat a massive bowl of it by itself.)

quick pomegranate and cucumber salad:

1/2 of an English cucumber, cut into a thin dice

1/2 of a pomegranate’s worth of seeds, do this easily by whacking the outside of the pomegranate with a wooden spoon so the seeds fall directly into your bowl

Small handful of curly parsley, chopped finely

Zest and juice of half a lemon

A generous drizzle of fruity olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Place all ingredients in your prettiest bowl and lightly toss to combine. Let rest 15 minutes before serving to let the cucumbers achieve a lightly pickled effect.

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of music that Ian and I listened to when we first started dating almost 9 years ago. Thus Blonde Redhead’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons remains an oddly nostalgic album for supper preparation, bus rides and walks to the library.

Blonde Redhead – In Particular

Sesame Cucumber and Avocado Salad

Sometimes when I cook for myself I like to make something elaborate and time-consuming, something really special that I love to prepare and eat. And sometimes I like to make something like this sesame cucumber and avocado salad, an incredibly easy dinner and delicious dinner for one paired with some crusty bread and a cold beer. This recipe was taken from this amazing article from The New York Times that I was sent a few years ago – Mark Bittman’s 101 Simple Salads for the Season – I use this article all the time, each of the recipes are perfect as they are or as a jumping off point (and Bittman provides lots of suggestions.) This cucumber and avocado salad becomes an easy all-in-one meal if served over room temperature white rice dressed lightly with rice vinegar. The salad I made tonight contains untoasted sesame seeds based entirely on the fact that I didn’t feel like turning on my stove but feel free to toast some up if you are feeling ambitious. Finally, make sure that you use an avocado that is perfectly ripe and by that I mean firm yet still soft, the clay green colour uniform and unblemished by dark brown spots.

sesame cucumber and avocado salad:

1 avocado, cut into a medium-sized dice

2 Tbsp. of low-sodium soy sauce

2 Tbsp. of rice vinegar

1 tsp. honey or white sugar

About a tablespoon of sesame seeds (scale back or go crazy, this is only a general guide)

1.Very carefully toss the cucumber and avocado. In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar or honey. Drizzle over the cucumber and avocado and top with the sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Do you have music that feels really sacred to you? Music that transforms into something totally different if it’s just you listening, music that is so profoundly attached to you that it always feels like home when you put it on? Cat Power is like that for me (and Smog, but I’ll get into that another time.) As much as I appreciated and loved the women behind the Riot Grrrl movement I remember how ecstatic I was to find Cat Power, the best depressing music in the whole world. When I have the apartment to myself I will listen to Chan Marshall’s entire discography on repeat until someone comes home and snaps me out of the dreamy maudlin state I have fallen into (at this point you can usually find me lying on the floor while looking at the ceiling, attempting to gracefully drink red wine out of a coffee mug without pouring it all over myself.) This song has thunderstorm songs in it which makes it my all-time favourite song to listen to while partaking in the aforementioned lonely lady activities.

Cat Power – Say