Cold Cucumbers with Creme Fraiche - Salade de concumbres a la creme
This is one of those simple salads that you can serve on a crudite plate with other salads, but it's so satisfying in itself that in France you will often see it offered as a first course in neighborhood restaurants. The French have delicous creme fraiche which they use generously, but if the fat makes you nervous, use yogurt instead. My own taste veers to creme fraiche in the winter and yogurt in the summer. If youdo want to use creme fraiche, you can buy it, but its is so expensive that it makes sense to propare your own. The French like to flavor this salad with little slivers of mint leaves, but I improvise freely and use other herbs, such as terragon or a mixture of chervil and chives. I sometimes make a decidedly unFrench version using cilantro and spicing the whole thing up with finely chopped jalapenos, or better yet, chipotles, which are jalapenos that have been smaked and are sold in cans or dried. My favorite cucumber salads from other places include raita from India (use tangy plain yogurt). I also like an Iranian version with raisins and walnuts.
To make a successful cucumber salad, you need to get rid of the excess water in both the cucumber and the yogurt. Otherwise, when you season this salad with salt, the salt will draw the water into this sauce. To get the excess water out of cucumber, toss the slices with salt, as in this recipe. To get the excess water out of yogurt, let it drain in a cloth-lined strainer or coffee filter for a couple of hours or overnight. If you live near Middle Eastern market, you may be able to find Leban yogurt, which has the consistency of cream cheese and doesn't need to be drained-in fact, you may need to thin it a little with milk.
5 regular cucumbers, or 3 long hothouse cucumbers
1 tablespoon course salt
3/4 cup Creme Fraiche or 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt, drained from 3 hours to overnight in a cloth-lined strainer or coffee filter set over a bowl in the refrigerator
1 bunch fresh mint
Peel the cucumbers. If you want a little added crunch and color, don't remeove all the peel but cut it off instripes so the cucumber ends up striped. If you are leaving some peel, wash the cucumbers thoroughly. And if you are suing regular cucumbers, which are usually coated with mineral oil to help preserve them, be sure to rinse them off thoroughly.
Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the halves into crescents, about 1/8 inch thick. Toss the slices with the salt in a mixing bowl and rub them between your fingers for about 2 minutes, until te salt dissolves and you can't feel it anymore. Transfer the slices to a colander and set the colander over the mixing bowl. Let drain for 30 minutes. Squeeze the slices in small bunches in your fist to get rid of as much of their liquid as you can. Stir the slices with the creme fraiche. Coarsely chop or tear the mint and stir it into the cucumbers. Season to taste with pepper.