Sesame and Herbs Flavor Camino’s Cucumber Salad

Chef Russell Moore adds garlic, lime zest and juice, green onions, and a few other ingredients to a medley of cukes for something delicious.


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This salad uses Persian, Japanese, and lemon cucumbers, but any combination will do.

Photo by Lori Eanes

So you’re sick of the same old supermarket-style “slicer” cucumbers? Well that’s on you, said Curtis Lucero of Lucero Organic Farms.

“It seems like there are new hybrids and varieties coming out every year, so you can really jump all over the place when it comes to cucumbers,” he said. “To those people who have just tried the same standard kind that they’ve eaten their whole life, I’d tell them, ‘You’ve got to try something new.’ Life’s going to be pretty boring if you’re just stuck doing the same old things all the time.”

Just this year at its Lodi and Clarksburg properties, Lucero Farms grew around a dozen cuke varieties ranging from Persians (smooth and mild) to salt-and-peppers (small and crispy, perfect for snacking) to lemons (round and yellow, like its namesake) to Armenians (long and slender in the shape of a curled snake).

Try them all and see which you like, but make sure to get them local and in season, because despite their ubiquitous presence in supermarkets, there is a local season for cucumbers that stretches roughly from late April through early November. It’s important, said Lucero, for two reasons. First, the cucumbers you generally find at big supermarkets are tough and thick-skinned — so that they can survive longer transport and storage — meaning you’ll likely have to peel and discard the nutrient-rich surface layer. The second reason is simple: taste.

Russell Moore, the executive chef and co-owner of Camino, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in Oakland this year, agreed. Rebuking standard supermarket cucumbers as “the worst, puffy and almost flavorless” with “thick plastic-y skin,” Moore tends to seek out specific favorite cucumbers from different farmers (a perk he says “from buying all the produce for Camino and before that at Chez Panisse”). 

For his cucumber salad with sesame recipe, he likes to use any combination of three: Persian, Japanese, or his personal favorite, lemon. While each variety is different, the general rule of thumb in picking them out, said Moore (and echoed by Lucero), is to err on the side of younger and smaller. When overgrown, cucumbers tend to get tough on the outside and mushy and pulpy on the inside. While you don’t need to, Moore prefers to peel his and then salt them to remove excess water. The rest of the salad is simple: Just mix the cucumbers with a shallot/lime/garlic mash (adding garlic is common in Asia), olive oil, toasted sesame seeds, and a generous helping of herbs.

It all adds up to a refreshing dish perfect for noshing on a warm day — or in a warm kitchen.

“I made a similar salad for the Camino staff meal,” Moore said. “That’s where this recipe comes from.”

 

Camino’s Cucumber Salad With Sesame

2 cloves garlic

sea salt

1 small spring onion or shallot thinly sliced

3 or 4 limes

1½ pounds cucumbers (any combination of Persian, Japanese, or lemon)

3 tablespoons olive oil

small handful of herbs (tarragon, chervil, anise hyssop, mint, summer savory, etc.)

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

 

For the dressing, pound the garlic with a pinch of salt with a mortar and pestle. Put the garlic in a bowl along with the spring onion. With a micro plane, grate the zest of one of the limes directly in the bowl. Juice the limes, and stir the juice in with the garlic, spring onion, and zest.

Peel the cucumbers. Slice each variety in a different shape. Leave the seeds in unless they are very large and/or bitter.

Put the cucumbers in a large bowl and toss liberally with sea salt. Let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Pour off most of the juice that develops. Pour in the olive oil and two-thirds of the lime mixture. Tear the herbs in large pieces, add to the bowl, and toss together. Taste and adjust with more lime, salt, or olive oil.

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