The most memorable summer meals don’t hinge on a single perfect dish. Instead, it is the interplay of multiple plates and platters — like a great mezze — that transforms them into an occasion. And a well-executed simple side is as critical to the whole menu as anything that may have taken hours to compose.
This salad combines two components, crisp cucumbers and creamy yogurt dressing, to lend a cooling counterpoint to any summer menu.
To make, toss bite-size pieces of cucumber with a spiced oil that’s been warmed just enough to make the coriander, cumin and red-pepper flakes bloom. Splash in a little vinegar, then set aside in the refrigerator to pick up the spices’ flavors. To a thick, full-fat yogurt or labneh, toss in a series of herbs: Cucumber and dill, or cucumber and mint? Add both, and some parsley and lemon zest. Each element folds into the others without overpowering the whole.
In the finished dish, the cold cucumbers retain their freshness, and carry a little heat, as well as earthy notes from the other spices. The lemon and herbs in the yogurt offer subtleties of their own while tempering the cucumber marinade’s warmth. A satisfying contrast of textures awaits you on the plate as the crisp cucumbers sink into the smooth, tangy yogurt. It’s this balance that helps the dish stand on its own as a snack or a simple salad.
This cold-marinated cucumber salad pairs well with sizzling kebabs right off the grill, smoky glazed chicken thighs with a good amount of char or sweet corn dripping with butter. It also pairs nicely with a seltzer and lime, a gin and tonic or a chilled Riesling. With the right balance of competing and complementary flavors, this salad is the right accompaniment to the grilled meats or vegetables of summer, whether it’s an elaborate dinner or a leisurely al fresco lunch.