Monday, July 2, 2012

Chilled-Out Cucumber-Asparagus Salad

This, gentle reader, is the time of year when Brooklyn girls without central A/C or outdoor spaces with grills do not want anything to do with cooking. Thus it happens that I have not set foot in my kitchen (other than to get a cold beer out of the fridge, of course) in, oh, three weeks? However, I managed to prepare a light summer meal tonight without actually turning on the oven, and induced only a minimal amount of brow perspiration.

The entrĂ©e consisted of pan-grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts (an extremely rare choice for me, as BSCB tend to get dried out easily and lack flavor) that I had pounded flat(-ish) in a Ziploc bag along with garlic cloves, and then marinated overnight in said bag, with a coating of olive oil flavored with salt, paprika, and said garlic cloves. Fairly ho-hum, right? That’s why this post is focused on the side dish, a super-easy cucumber-asparagus salad—chill to make, in both senses of the word—which would not-so-coincidentally be cheap and easy to multiply and bring to a 4th of July cookout/picnic/barbecue. (And yes, gentle reader, I actually prepared a dinner that did not contain carbs…it’s that hot!)

So, here's how this works.

First, make the dressing: Using a fork or whisk, mix a healthy splash of olive oil into about 1 TBSP mustard (grainy or Dijon) and 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar. Mix in a healthy sprinkle of kosher or sea salt, and one of paprika.

Trim, then steam or boil a handful of slender asparagus just until they are bright green. (Or throw it briefly on a grill or grill pan, as I did since I already had it heated for the chicken.)

Once the asparagus has cooled a bit, chop it crosswise into quarter-inch-ish pieces.

Thinly slice a little more than half an English cucumber (use a mandoline if you like), and two scallions.

Toss the asparagus, cucumber, and scallions in the dressing; taste it and add more salt, mustard, or olive oil as desired.

This would probably be excellent with torn fresh basil or mint leaves added, but I didn’t have any. Look, I thought we already established that it was a huge feat for me to go into the kitchen in the first place! Anyway, you can make it a day in advance for your Independence Day celebration…but if you do opt for fresh herbs, you’re probably better off waiting until right before you serve to wash, tear and toss them with the salad, so they stay nice and green rather than brown and gross.

Also, instead of treating this salad like a side dish for your chicken as I did, you could shred cold cooked chicken, flake grilled salmon, or drain canned tuna and add any of the above to the cucumber salad, some crumbled feta, and arugula or other salad greens to make a lovely lunch dish.

But I will say this for the chicken breasts: Thanks to the oil-based marinade, plus the fact that I kind of failed at pounding them thin and the fact that I put a domed lid over the grill pan that retained moisture while permitting ventilation, they were flavorful and not dried out. With this blah, fat-averse dish plus a glass of white wine over ice and, of course, the titular cucumber salad, I felt that I was truly celebrating our nation’s WASPy cultural heritage just in time for July 4.

Happy Fourth all, and God bless ’Mericker!

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