Most summer events when I was a kid came with a bowl of cucumber slices coated in a sour cream sauce containing vinegar, sugar, salt, and dill (of course). I never understood how it was made, but I enjoyed the cool, crunchy, tangy, dilly, and slightly sweet flavor, none-the-less. My culinary skills -and interests- were nowhere near as refined as they are today.
This is a side dish that defines late summer in Minnesota, and we seem to always have a bowl of it in the refrigerator, right up until the first frosts put an end to our cucumber season. In the past, we struggled with less-than- ideal cucumber varieties that grew too big too fast, and were filled with large, woody seeds. I still used them, but had to slice them lengthwise, and scoop out the seed cavity, leaving us with quarter moon shaped slices. Now that we have found our all-time favorite cucumber variety- the tender, sweet, never bitter, small-seeded Japanese variety called Shintokiwa, we make the best creamy cucumbers we have ever eaten (as well as the best fermented pickles).
They are easy to make, so here is what we need to do:
Peel about a half dozen decent-sized cucumbers (see the photo). There should be a quart or so of slices.
Mom did it, so I continue to add the step of running the tines of a fork along the sides to cut furrows into the flesh. It adds appeal, and likely helps increase surface area for extracting water.
Put the slices (about 1/8″ thick) into a colander that will sit inside of a stainless steel bowl. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sea salt (or land salt) over the slices, and distribute it by tossing the slices by hand. Cover with a paper towel, and let them drain into the bowl for about an hour. As the picture shows, this yields about a cup of drained water from the cucumbers. If you are so inclined on a hot day, drink this down, it’s quite refreshing.
Use the paper towel to blot the slices (somewhat) dry.
Make up a sauce containing 1/2 cup sour cream, 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar (more if you must, but our cucumbers are sweet enough), a handful of chopped dill leaves and small heads, about 1/4 cup of diced sweet onion, and 1/2 teaspoon of all-purpose seasoning. Some may think it needs salt, too, but taste it first.
OK, so what is all-purpose seasoning? Well, if we are going to be cooking together, you better get used to seeing this, because all-purpose seasoning goes into about everything I make (see the pizza blog). It is simply 1 part (by volume) black pepper to 1 part onion powder to 2 parts granulated garlic , or garlic powder. I buy the bargain containers for about a buck apiece, blend it all together, and store it in a flip-top container. Just be sure to buy the powder, not anything with salt.
Toss it all together, and let it chill in the refrigerator awhile. It actually gets better with age (within reason).
My version is not exactly Mom’s-she would not have used anything as exotic as red wine vinegar- but the essence is there to bring me back to summer picnics as a kid.