Creamy Cucumber Salad

This classic salad is popular with apron fitted, whisk wielding Betty Crockers all over America, and with good reason. It’s smooth and crunchy with just the right balance of sour and sweet. It’s a staple at any picnic or potluck but I discovered how well this salad accompanies fish while spending time in Austria.

Most of my time in Austria has been spent in Vienna, a gorgeous city repeatedly voted one of the easiest to inhabit in the world. I have certainly loved spending time there, perusing the Naschmarkt for seasonal goodies and delicious restaurants, hopping on the affordable, easy-to-use transit system to explore the famous Schönbrunn Christmas Market, or gawping in awe at the spires of Stephansdom.

One summer I had the opportunity to spend time in Northern Austria, or “Upper Austria” as the natives call it. Upper Austria  is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I was attending a wonderful summer program called “Sommerlied Weinberg,” in the small village of Weinberg and staying in the local castle nestled against the foothills of the Alps. During our breaks, we would meander down to the little brewery just outside the castle walls and indulge in their delicious beers and rich, traditional foods.

During a trip to Graz, near Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hometown, one friendly brewer asked me where I was from. When I told him, he replied “Ach! Cah-li-foh-ni-a! You have our Arnold!” “Yes,” I said. “Want him back?” He laughed and gave me a free beer.

Austrians love trout. You can order masterfully cooked whole trout at nearly every establishment serving Austrian food, and if you ask nicely, they’ll show you the coolest way to remove all the bones in one swift move before you dig in. The common accompaniment to the delicious buttered trout was a creamy cucumber salad with dill and onion and probably a little more vinegar than I’ve used in this recipe. The combination made for a perfect light dinner, filling you up enough to feel satisfied, but leaving room for the most important item on the table: beer.

Ingredients

5 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup whole, plain greek yogurt
1 cup whole sour cream
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (may substitute white wine vinegar)
1 purple onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 Tbsp dried dill (use 4 Tbsp if using fresh dill)
salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

The key to this salad is to drain your cucumbers for at least a half hour. Peel and thinly slice your cucumbers, then mix them with 1 tsp salt and 2 tbsp of the dried dill and place them in a colander over a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave them to drain for at least half an hour or longer if you have the time.

Meanwhile, chop your onion and mince the garlic. Then whisk together the yogurt, sour cream, vinegar, remaining 1 tbsp dill and pepper to make the dressing, abstaining from adding extra salt since the cucumbers will be salty already.

Add the onion and garlic to the dressing and leave, covered in the bowl until you’re done draining the cucumbers. Allowing the onion to sit in the acidic dressing tempers the strong raw onion flavor.

Press on the cucumbers to drain as much moisture as you can, then add the dressing and mix well, tasting for salt and adding a bit more if needed.

I’ve served this salad alongside my Dover Sole with Butter and Capers, but it nicely accompanies any fish dish, or use it to top a baked potato. And of course, it pairs nicely with an unfiltered wheat beer.

As the Austrians say, “Guten Appetit!”

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