Cucumbers are one of the most widely loved vegetables in the world. (I don’t have any official research to support that statement, but I still believe it to be true!) Kids or adults, fresh or pickled, you name it, and most people generally love them. That said, I think a lot of people are eating subpar cucumbers, and that’s because the secret to a truly delicious one is making sure it’s salted. In this method, I season the cucumbers perfectly before they get layered between a garlicky, smoky yogurt and a deeply spiced chili oil. The cucumbers are sliced thin, mixed with kosher salt, then left in a colander while you prepare the other components. Quick science lesson: through simple osmosis, the salt draws some of the moisture out of the cucumber, and then is absorbed into each slice. The result is a cucumber that somehow tastes even more cucumbery!
The other elements come together simply and quickly, too. The chili oil is an incredible way to add complex flavor to a dish since the hot oil blooms the flavors of the spices and garlic, and then as it cools, those flavors steep into the oil to create a deep, rich, red color. For the spiced yogurt, as a person who’s not usually a fan, this is one of the few times I truly enjoy it. It’s a delicious, creamy, cooling note that balances out the spice of the kashmiri chilis. Grill up some pita bread for scooping it all up, and you have a bright, flavor-packed starter, ideal for entertaining in the summer!
1. Cucumber Salad Inspiration
This dish was inspired by two classic Asian recipes: Chinese smashed cucumber salad and South Asian tadka or chhaunk, which is a method of tempering spices and/or seeds in oil or ghee.
2. Homemade Chili Oil?
This may be a store bought condiment to some, but it’s actually incredibly easy to make at home! You can customize your flavors – more chilis for spice, more garlic for the garlic lovers – so, as long as you can carefully pour hot oil into a bowl, you’ve got delicious homemade chili oil done.
3. A Great Summer Side
This dish is perfect for summer time, not only because it tastes fresh and bright and uses the best summer cucumbers, but it also requires almost zero cooking time. No need to turn on your oven and make your kitchen even hotter!
Cucumbers with Spiced Yogurt and Kashmiri Chili Oil
For the Chili Oil:
- 3 dried Kashmiri chilis tops removed, then crumbled
- 2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ cup vegetable oil
For the Cucumbers:
- 1 English cucumber halved lengthwise, sliced ¼-inch thick
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Garlicky Yogurt:
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
- 2 garlic cloves grated or minced
- Zest of one lemon plus 2 teaspoons juice
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- Cilantro leaves
- Mint leaves
- Place chilis, garlic, and all seeds into a small heatproof bowl. In a separate small saucepan, heat oil over high heat until it reaches 275°F, about 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately pour hot oil over chilis, garlic, and seeds. Garlic should sizzle and begin to cook. Set aside to allow oil to steep and cool.
- Place cucumbers in a colander over a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat evenly, then set aside for 15-20 minutes while preparing yogurt.
- Place yogurt, garlic, cumin, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl and mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed. Cover and set in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- To assemble, dollop yogurt onto a platter in a thick layer. Sprinkle cucumbers over evenly, then drizzle with chili oil. Garnish with fresh cilantro and mint, and serve immediately.