Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vinaigrette Salad--My Old Summer Must Rediscovered

This salad (which at home we call simply Vinaigrette) comes probably from somewhere in Russia and has been on my family menu for as long as I can remember. My aunt's husband, who studied film making in Moscow, had learned it there and later introduced us to this recipe.

It was very seasonal and made from very typical for Polish cuisine ingredients, which were then available only in summer. It calls for tomatoes and fresh cucumbers, but what made it really Polish was the use of potatoes, which often were dinner leftovers, sour cucumbers (aka cucumbers in brine) and dill.

I probably would not exaggerate by saying that in the summer we made Vinaigrette almost every day. We ate it in the evening with rye bread and a slice of ham on it. Crispy and tasty, sometimes it was the whole meal in itself, especially on a hot day, when we did not feel like cooking in the heat.

I had never made this salad in he US, until about three weeks ago. Cucumbers in brine are the only special ingredient that is needed to prepare it. Either you make them yourself or, if you can buy their commercial versions at almost any food store. The best ones are those made by Manischewitz or another Jewish company (but make sure you buy the salted ones not those pickled in vinegar). They are absolutely necessary for this salad and make this salad very unique and Easter European in taste.

On the Fourth of July, I served Vinaigrette with grilled meats to Polish guests. None of them knew it, but familiar ingredients made it the most popular dish right away and a large bowl of it disappeared very fast. Next time I have my guests (especially foreigners) I will experiment again. And I am sure my German friends, known for their love of potato salads will appreciate it as well.

Vinaigrette Salad
(Serves four)

1 cup chopped sour cucumbers (about 2 medium sour Kirby cucumbers),
1 cup chopped fresh cucumbers, 2 small fresh Kirby cucumbers or 1/3 of a long English cucumber,
1/2 medium onion, chopped,
1 cup cherry tomatoes or 1 large tomato (preferably old fashion heirloom tomato, or beefsteak tomato that are not too watery), chopped,
2 cup cooked baby or finger potatoes (or 1-2 large potatoes cut in cubes),
1/4 cup fresh chopped dill,
2 tbsp olive oil,
1 tbsp of lemon juice apple cider vinegar,
1 garlic clove (optional),
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Peel off the fresh cucumber and cut it into medium size cubes (first, cut it in four alongside and later quarter-inch thick slices). Then cut the sour cucumbers the same way.
2. Cut cherry tomatoes and baby potatoes in half or a big tomato or potato in cubes of similar size as those into which you cut the cucumbers.
3. Place all the vegetables in a large bowl.
4. Chop the onion into small pieces and add it to the rest of the vegetables.
5. Chop dill and add it to the bowl.

6. Separately, in a small bowl, prepare the vinaigrette dressing by mixing salt, pepper, olive oil, minced garlic (when used) and lemon. I would say a tbs of lemon juice or vinegar is enough but the amount I would like to add would really depend on how sour your sour cucumbers are. For instance, when I make them at home, and they are already fully sour, no lemon juice is needed. But if your cucumbers are not so sour (not so salted) you may add some zest to it.
7. Pour the vinaigrette dressing over the vegetables and mix gently. Let all the ingredients absorb dressing for about 10 minutes. Serve alone or with meats.

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