It feels like it’s almost too hot to eat these days, let alone cook. That’s where this Cucumber Tomato Salad comes in. Summer produce at its peak doesn’t need much in the way of embellishment, but a quick dressing with some umami rich favorites keeps this out of run of the mill salad territory. Juicy tomatoes, crunchy and cooling cucumbers, drizzled with a tangy and nutty dressing…this is what you need when you can’t even fathom turning on the oven.
Although this salad features cucumbers and tomatoes, you could easily swap out the veggie combinations for either what’s in season at that point, what’s in your fridge, or what you prefer. So avocados and radishes, roasted cauliflower or eggplant, blanched green beans or bean sprouts, or even some crumbled tofu stirred in are all good options. Can’t stand the heat but still need to eat? Forget the stove and let’s get chopping!
I start making my Cucumber Tomato Salad by washing and prepping the veggies. I usually reach for the long, thin European cucumbers or the smaller Persian ones. Both of them are more crunchy and less watery, which will keep your salad from turning mushy, and they also have thin unwaxed skin that doesn’t need to be peeled.
For the tomatoes, get whatever looks good. Large heirloom tomatoes, or smaller grape/cherry ones will all work here. Unlike the rest of the country, Florida grows in the winter, so my tomatoes are simple grocery ones. I prefer brown kumamotos which are widely available, juicy, and flavorful.
Since this is such a speedy simple dish and we do eat with our eyes, I take care to compose my Cucumber Tomato Salad in an appealing way on a nice platter or deep bowl. This one was made by my dad during his ceramic phase. This salad can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated. Keep this salad undressed as the dressing will quickly be diluted by the watery veggies if tossed ahead of time.
The Tomato Cucumber Salad Dressing
It’s really this dressing that elevates this salad into something you’ll be craving all through these warm days. For kids and adults who may frown at vegetables, a great sauce or dressing can really turns things around. Fresh and interesting flavors can help motivate those who are unenthusiastic. And we need to break the ranch crutch. So until you can get your table-mates excited for your veggie masterpieces, keep it fresh by introducing different kinds of vegetables with new flavors.
For this dressing, the workhorse is sesame. Sesame seeds feature prominently in Asian cooking and a deep roasted sesame flavor is particularly prized by Japanese palates. You’ll see all sorts of sesame dressings and sauces lined up at the grocery store and gourmet food sections in department store basements. Our dressing pairs freshly toasted sesame seeds with toasted sesame oil, ginger and garlic to bring a little zing, plus rice vinegar and soy sauce which provide a refreshing tanginess. Even though I always buy already toasted sesame seeds, I toast them for a few minutes again because nothing beats that freshly toasted aroma and flavor. Don’t skip this step as you’ll be richly rewarded.
I like to coarsely grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle, keeping some good texture and grit for the dressing. There’s something so satisfying about using these old fashioned pieces of kitchen equipment. Grinding the sesame in this way allows you to do it more slowly, letting you see your progress, and also gives you control over small quantities that may be more difficult to work with in large food processors or blenders. Finally, a mortar and pestle releases the oils in the seeds better.
If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can also make this dressing in a blender or food processor. Place all of your prepped ingredients into the work cup and blend/process until you have a thick dressing.
Normally with other Asian cuisines, the flavors are more robust and bits of garlic and ginger are appreciated. But Japanese food embraces subtlety, so I use a Japanese style grater to get the ginger and garlic silky smooth. You can also do this manually with a knife and chopping board, but keep mincing until your garlic and ginger are extra fine.
The veggies can be prepped, and the dressing made ahead of time, making this salad even more of a perfect summer staple. Keep the Cucumber Tomato Salad and dressing separate until serving though so the cucumbers stay crunchy and the veggies don’t get discolored. My preference is to just serve the dressing at the table so everyone can help themselves. If the dressing has been sitting for a while, give it a quick stir.
I hope this Cucumber Tomato Salad inspires you to get back in the kitchen for at least a little while this summer, and enjoy a cooling and healthful meal. Take a minute to let me know what you think, and of course don’t forget to tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love hearing from you!
For the Salad:
- 1 European cucumber or 4 small persian cucumbers
- 2 large tomatoes- or a mix of any kind is fine, about 2 cups.
- ¼ red onion
For the Dressing:
- 4 tablespoons Toasted Sesame Seeds
- 2 teaspoons peeled and grated ginger
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated or minced fine
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 4 Tablespoon light colored soy sauce (regular is fine too)
- 4 Tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
- Wash the cucumber. Trim the ends and then cut it in half lengthwise and slice it diagonally into chunky bite-size pieces.
- Wash the tomatoes and then cut them in half and then into wedges, slices, or attractive chunks.
- Slice the red onion into very fine pieces. Rinse the onion in a colander under cold running water and then drain the water completely. Set aside.
- Toast the sesame seeds in a clean dry pan over medium heat for several minutes. Be sure to stir the sesame seeds to keep them from burning.
- Put the sesame seeds into the mortar and grind using a back and forth motion. You want a coarse grind where some of the seeds may still be whole.
- Add the ginger, garlic, sugar, light colored soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil to the mortar bowl. Stir to combine and then transfer to a small pitcher or serving container.
- Divide the cucumber mixture into four individual bowls or one deep platter. Top with the tomato and the red onion. Serve the Cucumber Tomato Salad immediately with the dressing on the side.
*Even though the sesame seeds are already toasted, I like to re-toast them in the skillet. This step brings out more of the toasty, nutty flavor.
*I like to keep the dressing separate until serving since it will draw water from the veggies and you will end up with a very runny unattractive looking salad.
*You can make all of the components ahead of time and covered until ready to serve.
Keywords: salads, tomato, cucumber, summer, sesame seeds,