The Dressing for This Cucumber Salad Consists of Two Ingredients

I have been eating cucumber, tomato, and onion salad since I was old enough to eat solid foods, and I have been cooking it since I was old enough to wield a kitchen knife. Over the past two and a half decades, the ingredients have not changed. Aside from vegetables (and fruits, technically), you only need two of them: garlic salt and mayonnaise.

These two ingredients may not seem like a complete seasoning, but they work. My grandmother, who hated the cooking process, always took the shortest and easiest route to get food to the table. I don’t think she ever smashed, peeled, or even bought a fresh clove of garlic, but garlic salt was all over the place in her dishes (and so is mayonnaise – we’re talking about northern Mississippi white cuisine, after all).

Anyway. Umami-wrapped tomato juices and gel and a spicy chunk of raw onion are mixed with mayonnaise and garlic salt to create a balanced and surprisingly refreshing dressing. Even I, a woman who tends to tinker with recipes, resisted the urge to tinker with this not-so-pretty dressing. I, however, fiddled with the preparation of the cucumbers.

If you’ve ever tried a Sichuan cucumber salad, you’ve probably noticed that these cucumbers are smashed, not sliced. You’ve probably also noticed that these sharp, jagged edges hold better than smooth cut circles. So, I break my tortillas, then cover them with chopped onions and salt (garlic) well. This pre-salting agent not only removes a fair amount of excess moisture, but also adds flavor to the cucumbers and softens the onion, softening its pungent aftertaste. Then sprinkle tender onions and savory cucumbers with chopped tomatoes and mayonnaise, and the salad is ready. To make this minimal summer side you will need:

  • 6 small cucumbers (preferably Persian)
  • 1/2 sweet onion (red works too)
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half (or two cups large tomatoes, cut into small pieces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, plus more to complete
  • 1-2 tablespoons of your favorite mayonnaise

Wash the cucumbers and place them in a gallon freezer bag. Close the bag, then hit the cakes with something heavy (hammer, soup scoop, wine bottle ) to break them into rocky shards. (You don’t want to completely wipe them off; rip any long, stable pieces in two with your hands.) Place the cucumber slices in a colander over the bowl. Cut the onions into thin crescent-shaped slices, then place them in a colander with cucumbers. Sprinkle the vegetables with 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt, stirring to coat, then drain for half an hour or until the onions are tender.

Add cucumbers and onions to a large bowl and toss in the tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise. Try it, add more garlic salt and mayonnaise as needed, and serve right away (it stays fine for a few hours, but tomatoes will continue to release moisture as they sit, so keep that in mind). You can also add pepper, a splash of vinegar, crispy bacon bits, or any damn thing please, but do try the garnish; you can find joy in the streamlined simplicity of a barely clad pile of plant parts.

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