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

Sweet Pepper Slaw with Fresh Herbs

Sweet Pepper Slaw

I spent my Easter weekend with good friends, my second family in lots of ways. All of us are from Ontario and away from our immediate families for the holiday, so it’s always nice to get together for way too many cocktails and an impressive spread of food. This year we had some incredible bacon and spinach stuffed mushrooms, green peppers stuffed with spiced rice, macaroni and cheese, strawberry Eton mess, and this sweet pepper slaw with fresh herbs. When serving such a rich selection of food it’s always nice to have something light on the menu and this colourful salad was a bright addition the creaminess of the pasta and stuffed mushrooms. Use any singular fresh herb or combination you’d like, I’ve used my favourite fresh basil, cilantro, mint, and parsley in this version of the recipe. A mandolin would be useful for cutting the peppers, but a sharp chef’s knife will work perfectly well, albeit more slowly.

sweet pepper slaw with fresh herbs:

5 large sweet peppers of various colours, cut into very thin strips

1 small cucumber, sliced into very thin half-moons and then drained on paper towel

4 scallions, sliced very thin

3 cups of torn spinach, romaine lettuce, baby kale, or bok choy (or a combination)

Several handfuls of fresh herbs (such as mint, cilantro, parsley, or basil), loosely torn so that they resemble delicate salad greens

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tsp. caster sugar, honey, or maple syrup

1 tsp. kosher salt

Generous amount of freshly cracked pepper

Toss all of the salad peppers and greens together in a large bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, sherry vinegar, sweetener of your choice, salt, and pepper in a measuring cup, pour over the salad and toss to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving with additional fresh herbs scattered over top.

Speaking of friends from home, this album was my best friend at one point in my life about 13 years ago. It’s so strange listening to something that was so important to me at a totally different time in my life. I listened to Change while I was riding my bike along the Springbank park bike path, I listened to it during a particularly dark winter in my early twenties, and I listened to it over and over again in my first apartment during freshman year of university.

The Dismemberment Plan – Sentimental Man

 

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

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