These wintry days lead me to reach for comforting, nourishing food. The most comforting sensation to me is a too-hot bite of lentils fresh out of the pot or the smell of crushed garlic from my mom’s cutting board. So after reading Yotam Ottolenghi’s second of several cookbooks, I found the perfect recipe for me.
At first the simple “Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger” sounded too simple – why invest time in a topping when I could whip up Lemon & Eggplant Risotto or Saffron Cauliflower? The secret is that it goes on nearly everything, including my favorite vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free-but-not-paleo base of choice, lentils, i.e. the sturdy foundation of my plant-based meals.
I love the way this salad tastes, and I love its purpose even more: to brighten up a heavy or greasy dish, like a sour dollop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche. Basically, the raw onion and herbs are the beautiful acid you want to balance out a meal’s fat or sweetness.
I tweaked this brilliant recipe to make it seasonal/accessible year-round. Instead of the cooling cukes I opted for bright French breakfast radishes. (Any radish will do, but I love their oblong shape and beautiful gradient.) I also opted for mint instead of cilantro because, hey, it’s what I had on hand. If I was hard-pressed for a culinary reason though, I think that fresh mint adds another level of brightness to this salad.
Also, using a mortar and pestle is ridiculously fun. Chalk it up there with other cooking highs like flipping a perfect pancake or shaking a pan of awesomely-caramelized onions. It just feels good.
I hope you enjoy making and using this simple, healthful recipe. I love to make a batch of the salad (sans lentils) and store it for a few days so the flavors meld even more and I can use it in a tight squeeze.
I shared this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday.
So, why/when/where to use this:
With a fatty or heavy dish that is well-salted but tastes flat, use this salad on top to brighten the flavor and add acidity.