Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thank you, Morley Safer, for this plausible winter garden salad

Remember tomatoes? Sweet, luscious tomatoes, perfect additions to every kind of salad and utterly fantastic on their own? Drippy, summery tomatoes?

Nah, neither do I.

It's about 2 degrees outside. I skidded on black ice this morning. More snow is expected this weekend.

Time for some salad!

Most people don't crave the kind of tomato that bounces undented when it falls of the truck - in other words, the kind of tomato that is available this kind of year. But they still may want the refreshment of a salad. 

Needless to say, "salad" doesn't mean a fatty assemblage of pasta or potatoes featuring my least favorite food substance, mayonnaise. I mean a real salad, a gathering of garden vegetables. But what are the plausible options for a decent garden salad when the supermarket selections can be so dismal?

Here comes Morley Safer to save the day! 

To most people, Morley Safer is known as a veteran correspondent of 60 Minutes, the long-running television show. Some may remember the old joke, "What kind of name is Morley? Is it the opposite of Leslie?" Some people also know that Morley Safer was a journalist in Southeast Asia. But to me, he's mainly known for a salad. 

This recipe for "Spicy Cucumber Salad" appeared in the New York Times about 20 years ago. I recall making it right away. Nowadays we wouldn't think of this salad as being "spicy" - compare it, say, with the deceptively innocuous-looking salads you get in Ethiopian restaurants, with killer chili pepper slices hidden among the lettuce leaves - but evidently 20 years ago in gringo-land, only a crusty journalist with Southeast Asian wartime credentials would know about cilantro and red pepper flakes. It may not be spicy, but it sure is tasty.

What I love most about the recipe is that its ingredients are readily accessible in regular supermarkets throughout the year: cucumbers, carrots and cilantro. Yes, cucumbers from the farmers' market would taste better, but this recipe is quite forgiving. Since the cucumbers are halved and seeded, and then coated with a flavorful dressing, even relatively tasteless, bloated and woody cucumbers can be used. You can use a rainbow of carrots if you'd like, or just a bunch in a cello bag. This recipe will elevate the humble.

Morley Safer's Spicy Cucumber Salad

2 large cucumbers, peeled 
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into julienne strips (about 2 cups) 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves 

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup rice vinegar 
3 tablespoons sugar 


1/3 cup vinaigrette
1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce, or more to taste
optional: dash of soy sauce

Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds. Cut the cucumber into thin slices. Combine cucumbers, onion, carrots and cilantro in a bowl. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl, then pour to coat salad. Chill before serving.

Yes, you may place what we vegetarians euphemistically call "a hunk of protein" on this salad for a one dish meal. Or just serve it as a refreshing side dish. You may even crave it in the summer months - when the pickings are much better than they are in February.