August 5, 2004
On Shabbat, Stay Cool as a Cucumber
Miami is hot. In the summer, even sometimes in the winter, the air arches off the streets radiating heat circles that bend but do not break as you walk though them, slowly, slowly.
My grandparents, Oma and Opa, bought an apartment in Miami Beach that my family of eight piled into for visits. It was a small unit with one bedroom and a galley kitchen that emptied into a simply furnished dining and living area. But the center courtyard, where each of these tiny apartments faced, was opened to the sky and bathed in Florida sun. And the beach and the Atlantic Ocean were only two lazy blocks away.
So when we got our driver's licenses, my brothers and sisters and I drove ourselves from our Atlanta home to Miami. Opa would find us a little room close by so we could run around all day and night and touch base for meals or chats in between. Oma, a fastidious and controlled woman, loved our visits. Her serious and beautiful face would break into a child's laugh when my sister and I shared stories about the boys we met while strolling the beaches and dancing at nightclubs. And Opa, a sparkling and wise man, managed to find us once every day on the beach. From a distance, we would see him coming, wearing his summer suit and beige cap and carrying a brown paper bag holding our carefully prepared lunches of cold chicken, homemade challah, and light sugar cookies.
But for Saturday lunches, we came to them. Since they were Orthodox and didn't use appliances on the Sabbath, Oma had an array of simple but wonderful dishes she prepared in advance to be eaten cold. In the Miami heat, her Cucumber Dill Salad was one of my favorites. It was always served in a rectangular glass container with gold flower foiling on the sides. The pale green slices were always perfectly thin and even. And when we sat together around the dim unlit dining table -- me sunburned and tired from the day before -- her cool salad felt like a mint mist, a slow fan. Outside their window, the palm leaves baked yellow in the sun, but inside, eating pale green cucumber circles with my Oma and Opa, I was filled by a moment where there was nothing I'd rather do.
Oma's Cucumber Dill Salad
My grandmother marinated her cucumbers in distilled white vinegar, but I replaced it with rice vinegar for a less sharp taste. She also cooked with a very light hand when it came to spices, so play with the seasonings until it is perfect and refreshing for you.
2 large cucumbers (approximately four cups sliced)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of white pepper
Fresh dill (approximately 1-2 tablespoons)
Peel skin off cucumbers and slice thinly. Arrange in long rectangular sealable container. In small bowl whisk vinegar, water, salt, sugar and pepper. (Season to your taste, but don't add too much salt as it draws liquid from the cucumbers.) Pour vinegar mixture over cucumbers and mix well. Cut fresh dill and sprinkle over cucumbers. Close container, toss to mix and refrigerate overnight to marinate. Toss again before serving.
Serves five as a side dish.