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Cucumber Salad in Two Grandmotherly Styles

When I think of cucumber salad, I think of all the love and sheer stubborn energy that only your grandmother can bring to the table.

My grandmother, my Ima, makes very classic Hungarian cucumber salad, with vinegar and (again, you guessed it) paprika. Alanna of A Veggie Venture learned to make cucumber salad with sour cream from her grandmother, her Nana.

Incidentally, Dave made the red bowl shown in these photos, and I made the clear bowl with the dramatic lip (I like to call it my Elvis bowl). We are still as exuberant about glassblowing as ever.

I was about to make Alanna’s Nana’s cucumber salad when I suddenly realized that I had never asked my grandmother to tell me how to make our family’s version. I called Ima immediately and asked her to tell me what to do. (We call our grandmother Ima, the Hebrew word for mother, because that’s what my mother and my aunt always called her when we were growing up.)

Ima sure was pleased to hear my voice, and even moreso to hear that I had called because I needed her advice. Sometimes I think that she takes her greatest pleasure in life in my admitting that there are still things left for her to teach me.

There always will be, I’m sure.

Both cucumber salad recipes start the same way. You mix thin cucumber slices with some coarse salt, and let them sit for an hour or so. The salt draws a lot of water out, and the cucumber slices become somehow soft and pliable without losing their crispness.

It’s a lot like preparing cabbage for many Hungarian dishes, in fact. That also starts with a step of salting and setting aside, to draw out the moisture and change the texture of the vegetable.

Don’t worry, you rinse the salt water away and press the cucumber slices dry before going any further with either of these recipes.

From there, their paths diverge.

Ima’s cucumber salad is a Hungarian classic, sharp with vinegar and pulled together with the hefty sprinkling of paprika that she throws into almost everything she cooks.

Alanna’s Nana’s cucumber salad is a gentler creation, sweeter, luscious with sour cream and vibrant with chives.

I made half a cuke of each, to test them against each other, and I still can’t tell which I prefer. I guess I’ll just have to keep eating them both until I can figure it out.

This is my second entry for Salad Stravaganza, assuming I’m permitted to enter twice.

My Ima’s Cucumber Salad
1 English cucumber (these are the huge ones, usually plastic-wrapped and marked ‘seedless’)
1 onion
1 tbsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt
White vinegar (anything but Heinz, says Ima)
A large pinch of sugar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sweet Hungarian paprika to taste

Peel the cucumber and slice into thin rounds. I use my mandoline for this job, because I like how delicate the cucumber slices become. Thinly slice the onion as well. Mix the salt in with the cucumber and onion, and set aside for about an hour.

Rinse and squeeze out what water you can. Add enough liquid to just barely cover the cucumber and onion. It should be about 2/3 water to 1/3 vinegar, though you should adjust that to taste. Mix in the sugar and black pepper as well, and sprinkle some paprika on top.

Let it sit for about 20 minutes before serving, to give the flavors a chance to meld.

Alanna’s Nana’s Cucumber Salad
(recipe originally posted by Alanna of A Veggie Venture)
1 English cucumber
1 tbsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 C sour cream
Generous bunch of fresh chive, snipped with scissors
1 tsp sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

Slice the cucumber into thin rounds. Combine with the salt and let sit for about an hour. Rinse, press out what water you can, combine with the remaining ingredients, and serve.

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18 Responses to “Cucumber Salad in Two Grandmotherly Styles”

  1. Kalyn says:

    What a great post. Later this summer I should have lots of cucumbers in my garden, so I look forward to trying both of these. Your Ima’s salad is very similar to the way my own mother served cucumbers, but she didn’t ever put paprika or sugar, which I think will add a very interesting touch.

    Very fun seeing glass bowls that you’ve made too. I’m quite impressed. I wouldn’t know the slightest thing about how to blow something from glass.

  2. Alanna says:

    I love side-by-side comparisons! Thanks so much for telling the stories. And as it turns out, my grandmother had ‘Eastern European’ heritage, too. Her parents were what are called ‘German Russians’ and emigrated to Canada in about 1900. And when my grandmother herself was a young woman, she lived in a neighborhood thick with immigrants from Eastern Europe. PS I love Ima’s “anything but Heinz” directions!

  3. Lisa says:

    Both sound so good! I heart cucumbers – eat them every day. I’ve never had the kind of cuke salad that Ima made, but I’ve had Nana’s and it’s wonderful. I think that I’ll try the side by side comparison as well, what a great idea!

    Ohhh and those bowls are gorgeous! I love the big lip and on the other how the red isn’t throughout the whole bowl.. very nice you guys =)

    And hells yes – you can submit as many recipes as you’d like! Thank you so much!


  4. The bowls are SO BEAUTIFUL!!! I love the shape of the clear one. I think I need another hobby to add to my repertoire. Was it difficult to learn?

  5. Danielle says:

    Kalyn – I look forward to hearing how you like the salads.

    Alanna – Your recipe was fantastic! Thanks for sharing it. I love how our family histories tend to have this overlap.

    Lisa – Let me know how it goes, when you try the side by the side comparison! And thanks, I am so pleased with our bowls.

    SK – Thank you! It takes a lot of practice, and I have a long way to go, but it’s really enjoyable to learn. And that’s what really matters.

  6. I love those two little flower buds thingy as your garnish, they are tooo adorable. I just love spring/summer where we can just pluck the flowers in the garden and use them for garnishing. Hehe.

  7. cindy says:

    the glass bowls are all great! i have to admit i had to scroll through first and look at them, and then went back and read through! (sorry! they were just too beautiful!) the cucumber and sour cream one sounds luscious!

  8. Kristen says:

    I love those salads, but more importantly I can’t get over those gorgeous bowls. Wow!

  9. arfi says:

    Unfortunately, we don’t grow cucumbers in our garden, so I miss them a lot. Cucumbers are used a lot in Indonesian dishes, eaten raw or stir-fried. I just love to see your salad. Makes me craving for cucumbers! Oh, NO!

  10. mr.ed says:

    This recipe, or one similar was almost the only vegetable Dave’s grandfather Sandy would eat voluntarily. Anything else he had been served “at lunch.”

  11. ann says:

    “anything but heinz”
    that cracks me up! any reason why?
    i love cucumber salads too. Your Ima’s is a lot like my gramma’s except hers doesn’t have paprika, it has dill.
    thanks for these variations.

  12. Zsofi says:

    Hi Danielle,
    very authentic.now this is exactly the salad that is on every single restaurant menu during summer in Budapest. (With some paprikás csirke of course:)

  13. Lyra says:

    My Pennsylvania German (Pennsylvania Dutch to most) Grandmother always made a cucumber salad with milk and vinegar which my Dad and now I make. Its hard to convince others to eat it since it contains both milk and vinegar, which curdles the milk, of course, but its delicious so I dont mind eating it myself.

  14. toadberry says:

    When I was growing up in Hungary we used the same dressing for everything, cucumbers, lettuce, sliced tomatoes with sliced yellow peppers. It was made of water and vinegar as you say, but we also added a bit of sugar.

    PS. Danielle, I’m not stalking you, just getting addicted to your blog. :)

  15. Danielle says:

    Thanks, everyone!

    arfi – I’m really starting to get into Indonesian cooking, actually.

    Lyra – That sounds fascinating. What’s the recipe?

    toadberry – No worries, I enjoy seeing your comments pop up!

  16. Pat Troyka says:

    HELP! My dad’s family was Russian German, and my Mom learned to make what he called “Gumersalat” (sp?). I had the recipe in a book, but the book got wet, and all the family’s gone now. Anybody know the ingredients and amounts?

  17. Jaime says:

    We make gumersalat as well – and there is a recipe in the old Russian-German cookbook that came out of the midwest years and years ago – but I just make it by taste. So no true amounts, but I use:

    a tablespoon or two of quality sour cream, depending on the size of the salad
    sweet onion (We use Walla Walla sweets, as that’s where our Russian-German family lived)
    a couple of splashes of white vinegar (I’ve used white wine vinegar in a pinch)
    one fresh clove of garlic
    pepper to taste
    dried dill (optional)

    I let the cukes sit in the vinegar and salt for about an hour or so before hand. I have to remove the seeds from the cukes, so I do thicker half-moon shape rather than rounds, but growing up, gumersalat was always served in rounds. Onions should be cut so they are long-ish, but if you’d rather have them in a rough chop, that works as well. Put the clove of garlic through a garlic press. Add all ingredients to the vinegar and cukes. Then you kind of have to mess with the quantities until it tastes like you remember as a kid. :) I shake dried dill over for a bit of color – I don’t think my grandmother did that.

    Basically, you can follow recipes for tzatsiki and come pretty darn close to gumersalat – just use less sour cream so it’s not as thick.

    My parents both grew up in Walla Walla WA eating gumersalat – my father’s family used the sour cream, but my mother’s family didn’t.

  18. Mary says:

    My mom used to make a cucumber salad, when I was young, never acually watched her, just liked to eat it..now I was searching for the recipe, and came across these two…which sounds alot like hers, combined, so I m gonna try them out, thanks, been searching for awhile

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