Whenever I have a chance to teach English courses, I like to talk about cliches. “What are some of your favorite cliches?” I ask. “Or some of the most bewildering?” We write them down. “Now, how can we freshen them up? Make them more unexpected?”
Cliches got their start because someone came up with a spot-on description or catchy saying, and it stuck (even if it makes no sense whatsoever years later). Now hot summer days will always be “the dog days of summer”–as we picture a dog splayed on a cool floor, tongue lolling–and someone who remains mysteriously calm under pressure will always be “cool as a cucumber.”
And even though I make the class freshen up as many cliches as they can, I almost don’t want to rewrite the “cool as a cucumber” cliche. It’s hard to think of a more perfect description. Whenever I slice open a cucumber, I want to touch it just to see how cool it is. How has it stayed that way even in the hot garden sun, or on my kitchen counter as the sunshine filters in?
I now know that a cucumber stays that way because of its high water content, which can actually keep the inside of a cucumber 20 degrees cooler than the air around it! The poets are right–nothing the universe should escape our wonder: “There is nothing lowly in the universe… everything is magnificent with existence,” as poet A.R. Ammons writes. Even a bumpy green squash.
So then, to what use shall we put this wonder-inspiring squash? I suggest the cool and creamy Cucumber Dill Salad that is our featured recipe this week at Wolff’s Apple House as a way to set the tone–and the table–for spring. Dill is one of those distinctive herbs that wakes up your taste buds and lets you know that the herbs are alive and powerful this season. Blended with sour cream, cucumbers and a little garlic, salt and sugar, the dill in this salad won’t overpower you, but it will still beckon you outdoors with each fresh-from-the-garden bite.
Ashley Wolff notes that this salad accompanies many dishes quite well. I matched it with black bean wraps, a favorite late spring/early summer dish that’s perfect for picnics and lunches. (If you’re planning some Frisbee in the park on Memorial Day weekend, these might be nice to wrap in foil and add to your cooler!)
I often start with dried beans for this recipe because soaking and then cooking dried beans is the most frugal thing I know how to do. If you want to cook your own beans and haven’t found a method you like yet, try this:
Simmer them in water that’s generously mingled with olive oil. Add a bit of salt, some favorite spices and some scraps of vegetables or herbs that will give the mixture some flavor. I tend to use up the ends of things in my bean cooking (well-scrubbed onion ends and skins, herb stems, stems from greens), and if those odds and ends are particularly humble and lumpy, you can always pick them out after the batch has simmered.
It does take foreeeever for beans to simmer, depending on the kind of bean. Black beans are unusually stubborn. It took about an hour for my big pot of black beans to cook in preparation for the black bean wraps. All that to say, cooking beans is a good project to undertake when you have serious plans afoot in the kitchen anyway, and when you can listen to a favorite radio program or playlist. Taste the beans at intervals, and when they’re plump and really, truly soft and not just halfheartedly soft, then they’re ready for whatever glorious, protein-rich, wallet-friendly creations you envision them in.
So set the table with grace and flavor this spring, and enjoy the way the dill in these recipes harmonizes!
- 2 cups cooked black beans, slightly mashed
- ½ cup red, orange or yellow bell pepper, minced
- ½ cup grape tomatoes, quartered
- ⅓ cup olive oil mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill
- Juice of 1 lime
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 tortillas
- 4 leaves Romaine lettuce
- Combine everything except the lettuce and tortillas in a medium-sized bowl.
- Warm up the tortillas so they're soft and easy to fold (I usually do this in a shallow pan on low heat, watching the tortilla carefully so it softens but doesn't scorch).
- Drape a lettuce leaf across each tortilla and scoop a few spoonfuls of the bean mixture on top.
- Fold the wrap and serve.
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