Saturday, September 8, 2012

Vibrant Tomato & Cucumber Salad with Fresh Mint ~ My Father's Favorite

When I was a kid, we moved to a town with a large Italian population. I remember my dad coming home from work, dressed in a jacket and tie with a bunch of tomatoes in one hand, a loaf of crusty Italian bread in the other. He  brought us fresh mozzarella, paper thin prosciutto and pistachio-studded mortadella too. He'd prepare a salad with the tomatoes and serve it with the Italian meats, bread and mozz. It was his go-to dinner on busy weeknights when he was too tired to cook.   

He was a funny, generous and kind man. He was my best friend and caretaker. An accountant by trade, he could do long division in his head. This always amazed me, since I found it exceedingly difficult to complete the simplest of equations on paper. Math either bored me or it terrified me. But, he never let that bother him. When I felt terrible for flunking algebra, he told me that I'd be fine. No matter how many math classes I failed, (and there were many) he'd always tell me that I'd find my own way in this world. Knowing I was a bit of a worry wart, he reminded me to believe in myself and to accept things. He told me there would be life after trigonometry. He took care of me and my younger sister when we were sick. He slept on a cot by my bedside when I was hospitalized with teenage mono. I didn't inherit his talent for numbers. But I share his love of cooking and nurturing people with good food. I have many fond memories of my father and the delicious meals he prepared for us. He was famous for his Christmas feasts which included festive punch and succulent prime rib. Before he passed away, he asked me to bring him fried chicken. When he was in the hospital, he requested my sister bring him the New York Times and a deli-style corned beef sandwich on rye bread. He was raised in NYC, so this made perfect sense. He managed to eat half of it before slowly slipping away. I was thirty when he died. My sister was twenty six. 

This was his favorite salad. When I make it, I think of him. My husband now loves it too. Simplicity at its best. Fruity extra virgin olive oil,  tomatoes, scallions, a little mint, lemon and salt. It's a vibrant Eastern Mediterranean combo. The salad actually makes its own light and refreshing dressing. If you're a tomato lover, this recipe is for you. 

Serve it alongside a fish, chicken or steak. Stuff it into a pita with my creamy restaurant style hummus.
You can add some chickpeas to it for a light lunch or just eat it the way my dad did with bread, imported prosciutto and pillow-soft mozzarella.

Tomato Salad Recipe

Some notes: 

Make this salad with any variety of ripe tomatoes. Use one pound of small plum tomatoes, tiny grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes or whatever kind of tomato that floats your boat. Summer heirloom tomatoes are wonderful too.

In the off-season, I'm also okay with buying red, ripe, greenhouse grown tomatoes when I need my tomato fix.   

This light, healthy salad is high in vitamin C, lycopene and monounsaturated fats.  

My dad was Lebanese. Adding fresh or dried mint to chopped salads was, is, and always will be popular with Middle Easterners. Fresh mint adds its own sparkle to this delicious salad. If you use dried mint, it's important to use spearmint, not peppermint. Peppermint has a different flavor. It's used for candy making and baking. If you love Middle Eastern salads like tabbouleh, chances are you'll love this one. Add just enough mint to add a light, fresh flavor.       

Persian cucumbers are sweet, crunchy and seedless. There's no need to peel them as their skins are soft. I find them at Trader Joe's or my regular supermarket. If all you can find are regular cucumbers then peel them before adding them to the salad.

I find scallions to be easier to work with and much milder than red onions, so that's what I go for.
It is excellent alongside my lemon and herb roasted chicken 

For the Salad You'll Need:
  • 1 pound of ripe tomatoes, chopped or quartered depending on the kind and the size. I used quartered cherry tomatoes.
  • 3 scallions, green and pale-green parts diced
  • 6 Persian cucumbers, chopped into small pieces (see notes)
  • Some fresh mint leaves torn or chopped or a pinch or two of dried spearmint rubbed between your fingers to release its flavor. The mint should not be overpowering. (see notes)   
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. I used unfiltered.
  • 1 lemon, a squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice. Don't overdo it with the lemon juice, unless you really love lemony salads.  
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste. Fleur de sel is great.
Place everything in a bowl and toss to combine. Let stand for 5 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Enjoy!

Angel Hair Pasta in a Light, Creamy Tomato Sauce with Fresh Thai Basil. Bliss!

Coconut Milk Chocolate Mousse ~ An easy, twist on the traditional.

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