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

Avocado Toast with Pomegranates and Chillies

Toast on an orange plate topped with avocado, pomegranate seeds, and red chillies.

This particular version of avocado toast is such a bright and happy way to start your day. Outside was a solitary sheet of grey today, it was raining so hard that large pools were flooding at intersections all of the leaves that were left in the trees are now firmly littered all over the street. I try to keep my writing space and general home environment sunny and I’m a huge fan of big pops of vivid colour to bring a certain radiant ambience to an otherwise neutral room. Meals like these are an extension of that design principle, they serve to bring light into a dark day. The chillies are what really make these flavours all come together, its addition was inspired by one of my favourite fancy cheese condiments (the Pomegranate Hot Pepper Jelly from Artisan Edibles). Don’t skimp out on the salt either, you need it to complete the holy trifecta of sweet, salty, and spicy!

avocado toast with pomegranate and chillies:

Really simple: mash one avocado and spread it over two pieces of toast (I like whole wheat because it’s nutty and sweet on its own). Scatter a generous amount of pomegranate seeds over the avocado and finish with dried red chillies and kosher or sea salt (Maldon salt is particularly nice to have for this one). Press down lightly so that the pomegranates don’t roll off as you’re trying to eat it. Enjoy right away while the toast is still warm.

Stack of colourful crochet blankets.

I was so sad to hear about Carey Lander’s passing. I’ve always loved Camera Obscura, ever since I first heard their debut album Underachievers Please Try Harder. Her voice was so clear and luminous, like a shining projection of happiness over an underlying sadness. This remains one of my favourite songs ever; it’s so simple and hopeful, a moving tribute to the future that lies ahead.

Camera Obscura – Eighties Fan

Acorn Squash Salad with Brown Rice, Roasted Leeks, and Hemp Hearts

Pink platter with acorn squash and brown rice salad

This vegan beauty of a salad came into my head the other day when I went for walk with my mom down to the beach. The rain is really getting into full swing here in Vancouver and the kaleidoscope explosion of leaves are all over the sidewalk, I felt totally inspired by the colours that overlapped all over the sidewalk and street. I tend to use acorn squash because it’s smaller and easier to carry home from the grocery store when I’m also trying to get three other bags home at the same time. It’s also slightly easier to cut into than say, a butternut squash, and I think acorn squashes are considerably sweeter. I used cold brown rice because I had some leftover from making a stir fry the day before, but you could easily use quinoa, barley, or bulgur. I would actually suggest making the acorn squash, leek, and brown rice the day before to make sure they’re all properly chilled; this also ensures that the salad making process is only about ten minutes long, including time spent making the dressing. The hemp hearts and black sesame seeds give texture and an extra nutritional boost, plus they just look pretty. I’d like to try this salad again with finely chopped dried apricots instead of dried cranberries or cherries, they’re slightly chewier and would be a nice contrast to the softness of the roasted vegetables. Whatever you end up using, serve this salad at room temperature to ensure all the flavours really have a chance to shine.

acorn squash salad with brown rice, roasted leeks, and hemp hearts:

1 small acorn squash, split in half lengthwise with the seeds removed

1 large leeks, split lengthwise and rinsed well to get rid of any lingering dirt

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. maple syrup

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

1 cup of brown rice, cooked and then allowed to completely cool

1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries

About 4 sprigs worth of fresh thyme

1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, torn

2 Tbsp. hemp hearts

1 Tbsp. black sesame seeds

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle the acorn squash halves with 2 teaspoons each of the olive oil and then a teaspoon each of the maple syrup (you can slice a small piece of the squash off on the one side so they’ll stand up straight). Arrange them on a baking sheet with parchment paper alongside the leeks, drizzling them with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and then roast for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your squash. The leeks should be curling and browned when done. Set aside to cool.
  2. Chop the cooled acorn squash and leek into small pieces for the salad and place in a large salad bowl.
  3. Add the brown rice, dried cranberries or cherries, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, hemp hearts, and black sesame seeds. Toss gently to combine.
  4. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss once more to make sure all of the ingredients have been evenly coated. Allow to sit for at least half an hour before serving at room temperature.

dressing:

1 Tbsp. maple syrup

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. red chilli flakes

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake until emulsified.

My high school self would be thrilled with my current musical leanings, fifteen years later and I’m rediscovering Tricky for the third or fourth time. I remember reading in a Spin magazine article that he wore his asthma puffer around his neck on a string due to his near constant pot smoking habit, I felt a sort of asthmatic-to-asthmatic kinship with Tricky at that moment (although I wasn’t smoking any pot at that point in my life).

Tricky featuring Alison Goldfrapp – Pumpkin

Autumn Salad with Roasted Golden Beets and Cauliflower

Plate full of salad with roasted cauliflower and golden beets.

I’m entirely in love with the autumn we’ve had in Vancouver this year. It actually feels like a season of its own and not just an immediate onset of grey and never-ending rain (which I do love, I’m not complaining), but a breathtaking and bright extended autumn. It feels like I’m back in Ontario for my favourite time of year, just without the quiet threat of impending snow and cold. This warm salad is an ode to the seasonal fruits and vegetables of autumn, its bright colours mimic the foliage of October in Vancouver. It’s a vibrant contrast between green pine trees and palm trees against the firework display of deciduous leaves, often nestled delicately amongst the former. You could use turnip, parsnip, sweet potatoes, yams, or carrots in place of the golden beets and the apple could easily be a pear. Go ahead and use regular beets but beware their shocking hue, your salad will go from multicoloured to deep red as soon as you toss it. I also like this salad the next day wrapped up in warm pita bread or naan with a drizzle of hummus that has been thinned with tahini and lemon juice.

autumn salad with roasted golden beets and cauliflower:

5 golden beets, scrubbed and quartered

1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into small segments

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Half an apple, I like Pink Lady or Honeycrisp

2 small stalks of celery, cut into thin quarter moons

About a third of a red onion, diced and then soaked in juice of 1 lime and water for at least 15 minutes

2 cups of baby spinach, torn

Half of a pomegranate

for the dressing:

1/4 cup of olive oil

1 1/2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1 Tbsp. honey or 1 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. dried chilli flakes

Freshly cracked pepper and kosher salt to taste

1. Toss the beets with olive oil and generous pinch of salt and roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Add the cauliflower pieces and another drizzle of olive oil, roast for another 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to come to room temperature.

2. Put all of the salad dressing ingredients into a jar and shake vigorously. Set aside.

3. Cut the beets into thin slices and combine them with the cauliflower, apple, celery, red onion, spinach, and pomegranate seeds in a large salad bowl. Add the dressing and toss well to coat the salad. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving while still warm.

Who knew a song about a dying goldfish could be so pretty? Something meaningful and nostalgic for a warm day on the couch in front of the fire.

Pinback – Penelope