Recipes: Three refreshing salads to beat the heat
Cucumbers, tomatoes, and melon are the stars of these summer dishes that strike a balance between sweet and salty.
These recipes are part of a new partnership between Christopher Kimball and the cooks at Milk Street and the Globe Magazine’s Cooking column.
Thanks to our travels, we’ve learned that the secret to making refreshing summer salads is striking a balance between sweet and salty. Bonus: These are simple enough to throw together in about half an hour. Chinese cooks, for example, know that salting smashed cucumbers wicks away moisture for a denser texture and fuller flavor, which allows them to soak up the sweetened lime and sriracha dressing in our Smashed Cucumber Salad With Peanuts, Scallions, and Cilantro. Salt, chili powder, and a splash of lime add depth and complexity to the Chili-Lime Melon Salad we found in Mexico City. And in Palestine we discovered a Tomato-Herb Salad With Sumac, in which the citrusy, sharp-sweet flavor of sumac acts like salt, heightening the flavor of even supermarket tomatoes.
Smashed Cucumber Salad With Peanuts, Scallions, and Cilantro
Makes 4 servings
Although this refreshing, boldly textured and flavored salad is from Yunnan province in southern China, its flavors mirror those of Southeast Asian cooking. That’s because it originates with the Dai ethnic minority, who are related to the people of Laos and Thailand.
Salting the cucumbers draws out excess moisture, preventing it from diluting the other flavors. Don’t use regular cucumbers; they contain a large amount of seeds that will quickly water down the salad. And don’t forget to peel them — the skins block the salt from drawing the maximum amount of liquid out of the watery flesh.
Serve with grilled meats or seafood, along with jasmine rice.
2 medium garlic cloves, finely grated
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
4 tablespoons lime juice
1½ teaspoons sriracha
½ teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 English cucumbers, trimmed and peeled
½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 serrano chili, stemmed, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
½ cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, finely chopped
In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, ginger, lime juice, sriracha, sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside. Place the cucumbers on a cutting board. With the flat side of a chef’s knife or a rolling pin, hit the cucumbers until they split and crack.
Slice the cucumbers ½-inch thick on the diagonal and transfer to a large colander set over a large bowl. Add 2 teaspoons salt and toss. Top with a plate smaller than the diameter of the colander; weight down the plate with two or three cans. Let stand until liquid has pooled in the bowl, about 15 minutes. Discard the liquid, then rinse and dry the bowl.
In the same large bowl, combine the cucumbers, peanuts, scallions, chili, and cilantro. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Tomato-Herb Salad With Sumac
Makes 4 servings
Tart and vibrant, sumac is a common seasoning in Middle Eastern cooking. We use it here to balance the sweetness of tomatoes, mixing it into an onion-flavored vinaigrette. The tomatoes, along with an abundance of herbs, get gently tossed in the vinaigrette, and a final spoonful of sumac adds a finishing sprinkle of flavor. Note that this salad is best made with perfectly ripe, in-season tomatoes. For added color and flavor contrast, add diced or coarsely crumbled feta cheese.
Don’t use the onion without first soaking it in lemon juice; this tames its bite. Likewise, don’t use the garlic raw — blanching the cloves for a minute mellows their pungency.
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
6 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons ground sumac, divided
2 pounds plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 4 or 6 wedges
½ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup lightly packed fresh mint, torn
In a small bowl, stir together the onion and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Let stand for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, then drain. Finely chop the garlic, then use the flat side of a chef’s knife to mash it to a coarse paste. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons lemon juice, the oil, 3 teaspoons sumac, and ¾ teaspoon salt.
Add the tomatoes to a large bowl and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt. Drain onions, pat dry, and add to tomatoes along with the parsley, dill, and mint. Drizzle the garlic mixture over the herbs and gently toss. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sumac.
Chili-Lime Melon Salad
Makes 4 servings
Cucumber gives this salad nice color and crunch, but 2 cups of cubed honeydew can be used in its place. We like the subtle flavor of light agave in the dressing; a mild honey, such as clover honey, also works. If queso fresco is not available, use feta but omit the ½ teaspoon salt used to season the cheese. The dressing can be made and the melons and cucumber prepped a few hours in advance, but don’t toss the salad more than 30 minutes before serving.
This recipe is easily doubled.
Don’t use regular chili powder. It’s typically a blend that includes chilies, cumin, oregano, and garlic, and won’t taste right in this dish.
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon lime zest, plus ¼ cup lime juice (from 4 limes)
3 tablespoons light agave syrup
2 cups cubed seedless red watermelon (about 8 ounces), cold
2 cups cubed cantaloupe (about 8 ounces), cold
½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, cut into bite-size pieces
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint (optional)
½ cup crumbled queso fresco
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chili powder, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool completely.
Whisk in the lime zest and juice, agave syrup, and ¾ teaspoon salt. Add the watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, and mint; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss the queso fresco with ½ teaspoon salt and the pepper.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the salad to a serving bowl and top with the queso fresco.