In Northern California, there are a few unspoken rules. One is that you must never admit that you’re sick of lettuce. Which is why, on a recent trip to visit my folks, I had to whisper it to my mother. “Blasphemy! California greens are the best in the country,” she hissed, holding up a Mill Valley Beerworks menu between us so it might look to the server like we didn’t know one another. Unfortunately, he’d already overheard my complaint—but fortunately, he was from New Jersey, so he didn’t have our state citizenship revoked. He did take the opportunity to sell us on a lettuce-free salad, composed of smashed cucumbers and dressed with a bright soy vinaigrette. It was so delightfully harmonious in flavor, I haven’t been able to stop riffing on it since. My latest version of this salty, tangy, texturally magical cucumber salad not only punches above its weight—it wins every bout. To make this into a full-fledged dinner, toss in some tofu if you please, and serve over rice. —Ella Quittner
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Smashed Cucumber Salad With All of the Crispy, Crunchy Bits
garlic clove, peeled and grated
seasoned rice wine vinegar
plus 2 teaspoons lime juice
plus 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Japanese cucumbers (you can substitute Persian if you can’t find Japanese)
kiwis, halved, scooped, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
large Asian pear, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (you can substitute a Honeycrisp apple if you can’t find) (about 2 cups of cubes total)
French breakfast radishes (can substitute round radishes if you can’t find breakfast), scrubbed, trimmed, and sliced thinly with a knife or mandoline
raw, roughly chopped cashews
drained capers in brine, patted dry
scallions, rinsed and trimmed (greens and whites) and then finely chopped, divided
small handful of cilantro leaves, about 1/3 cup loosely packed, rinsed and patted dry (optional)
In a large bowl (in which you’ll build the salad), make the vinaigrette: whisk together the garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, and sesame oil.
Halve the cucumbers lengthwise. To minimize mess, place them inside a freezer bag. With a rolling pin or meat mallet (or carefully with the heel of a large knife’s blade), gently smash the cucumber halves so that their skin cracks and their flesh begins to soften. Transfer to the bowl, breaking into bite-sized pieces with your hands. Leave behind any liquid or seeds. Let the cucumber pieces marinate in the dressing for at least 5 minutes, but for no more than 30 minutes (you want to retain some crunch).
After the first 5 minutes, add the kiwi, pear, and radishes.
In a dry skillet over medium low heat, toast cashews until they just begin to deepen in shade. Toss in the sesame seeds, give the skillet a shake, and let the cashews and sesame seeds toast together for another minute. Transfer to a plate off heat.
In the same skillet, after wiping away any lingering bits, heat oil over a medium flame until it’s hot enough to produce bubbles around the tip of a wooden spoon. Add the capers. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until crispy and puffed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the plate of toasted cashews and seeds.
Finish the cucumber salad by mixing in the cashews, sesame seeds, capers, scallions, and cilantro (if using).
Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.