The cucumber used to be more than it is today. Oh, there are still cucumber lovers out there (myself among them), but in the ancient world, this was more than just a favorite salad topping. The cucumber was considered the pinnacle of refreshment, its crisp, crunchy, watery bite being the ultimate tasty oasis in the hot climates of the near east, the way we might think of a cold glass of lemonade today. No wonder cucumbers were used to flavor water and combined with yogurt, two other pillars of refreshment
Here is an original recipe that celebrates the cucumber as its feature. I came up with it using ancient Persian ingredients and trying to imagine ancient Persian tastes. Quick and simple, the resulting dish is sweet and peppery, with its combination of pomegranates, dates, and black mustard seeds. And of course, it wouldn’t be right if this cucumber salad was not also packed with fresh herbs.
PERSIAN INSPIRED SWEET CUCUMBER SALAD
4-6 small Persian cucumbers (Or substitute one large one)
1 small pomegranate, seeded
1 bunch combined fresh herbs (pictured mint and cilantro)
For SPICY SWEET AND SOUR DRESSING:
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
5 dates, rough chopped
1 tbsp. wine vinegar
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp. olive oil
salt to taste
Start by prepping your ingredients. Pick your herbs and lightly tear them, still leaving in large chunks (don’t chop them) Slice the cucumber at desired thickness and rough chop the dates for the dressing.
The biggest pain in this simple recipe is probably picking pomegranate seeds, but one trick I like is to do it in a bowl of cold water. It controls the mess and separate all the bitter white rind out, which floats to the top. With a gentle touch, the seeds don’t loose any of their flesh.
Put fresh ingredients in a bowl and set aside
Now make the dressing. In a mortar and pestle, lightly pound the mustard seeds into a coarse, not too powdery grind. Next, add the dates and pound more aggressively until its a paste. Finally, add the vinegar, pomegranate molasses, and salt, stirring together. Drizzle in olive oil while stirring to finish. If you want something a little thinner, simply add a tablsepoon or two of water and more salt if necessary.
Spoon the dressing over your salad ingredients (you may not need all of it) and toss together. Garnish with a little more herbs, and that’s all there is to it. Refreshing, sweet (without added sugar), and full of fresh flavor, dare I say the perfect appetizer to a royal banquet?