This spring, Jackie and I spent a few days in Cornwall, in southwestern England, our first trip to the area. If you look at a map, you’ll see why we anticipated eating great seafood: There’s water, water everywhere (with plenty of good local beer — and even local wine — to drink).
One sunny day, we had a particularly nice lunch at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, a pretty village on the Camel River estuary, an area that has become something of a center of high-class cooking between Stein and Paul Ainsworth in Padstow and Nathan Outlaw across the estuary at Rock. (I wrote a few words about the trip here.) At that lunch, I ordered a first course of local crab, which included something that I thought would be easy to adapt for home use: a cucumber-wakame salad with a dashi-based dressing.
So when we got back home, I bought myself a bag of dried Japanese wakame seaweed and waited patiently for cucumbers to arrive at our farmers market, which they have now done — in spades. While I was waiting, I thought about the flavors. I wasn’t inclined to make any kind of dashi just for a couple tablespoons of dressing. Also, I wanted to make the salad a little less overtly Japanese, though there was no point in trying to jettison the Asian flavors completely, as the seaweed would anchor the dish in the Sea of Japan no matter what I did.
I yanked at that anchor chain a little, however, by using walnut oil, which, with its toasty flavor, turned out to be a good choice. To a couple of tablespoons of oil, I added a similar amount of citrusy ponzu from a bottle (a good thing to have in the fridge), a squeeze of lemon juice and just a little salt (the cucumbers themselves will be salty). There’s enough sweetness and savoriness in that combination without any additional ingredients.
As to the salad itself: For two side-dish portions, I peeled a pair of small cucumbers (six ounces each; one large cuke would do the job, of course) and scooped out the seeds with a spoon. These, along with any scraps of cucumber flesh, I saved for cocktail hour (see below). I shaved the cucumbers into thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler, salted them liberally and put them in a strainer to “pickle” for 10 minutes. I then rinsed them, drained them well and wrapped them loosely in paper toweling to dry. (Cucumbers treated this way remain crunchy, but not in a watery way.)
Meanwhile, a tablespoon of dried wakame was reconstituting in lots of cool water. This took no more than six minutes and yielded an astonishing volume of fleshy, bright green seaweed. I rinsed it, drained it and, again, wrapped it in a paper towel to dry.
Five or 10 minutes before we ate, I combined the cucumbers and wakame, and stirred in the dressing, checking for salt; none was needed. We had it as a side dish with tuna salad sandwiches — a perfect combination, not that it wouldn’t have been good with shrimp or crab.
Now, here’s what I did with the cucumber trimmings — including the seeds and their surrounding juices — based loosely on a delicious warm-weather cocktail that Jackie and I had during that same trip at the buzzy and welcoming bar of Claridge’s hotel in London: I muddled the cucumber stuff (you could use cucumber slices cut specifically for this drink, of course, as any serious bartender would) with a scant teaspoon of sugar, added a squeeze of lime juice and some gin (at Claridge’s they used Hendrick’s) and gave it a good shake with ice. I strained the result into flute glasses and filled them with Champagne. The aroma of the cucumbers is enchanting, and the drink is one you can either gulp or sip, depending on how quickly you want to feel its effects.