I got the idea for cooking the cucumber and coating it in a yoghurt and mayonnaise sauce from Lesley Blanch’s classic, Round the World in Eighty Dishes. She’s an excellent and entertaining writer. Elegant, beautiful and bohemian, she was a features editor at Vogue during the war years.
She describes how she discovered this method of cooking cucumber in Belgium, as follows
“The chef, whose thunderous, black-browed good looks spoke of the Spanish ancestry common to many in this part of Flanders was passionately enamoured of a coquettish miss who waited at table….We watched Josette encouraging the brandy merchant’s gallantry, the hatch was suddenly flung open and a large carving knife flashed over our heads to land quivering in the wall beside Josette…the knife was followed by a meat cleaver…Madame sacked Josette the next day. But the chef was kept. He was too good a cook to lose for a little upset…. The way he served cucumber was particularly delicious.”
How I’ve developed this salad
Aside from the basic three ingredients I’ve changed the recipe quite a lot, adding the in the artichokes and asparagus for a bit more interest, and the paprika mainly for colour. No matter how hard you try to drain the cucumber it will still remain a little watery which is perfect – that’s the reason for serving it with the puffy warm flatbread, which will soak up the creamy juice.
I named this salad ‘hot and cold’ because a couple of the ingredients – the cucumber and the mayonnaise are normally expected to be served cold. In fact, the salad is not bad if left to become cold.
And I named it ‘passionate’ after the Belgian chef.
How to cook this salad – a note
The salad takes about ten minutes to make if you jump to it! This isn’t one of these recipes where you prep everything first – this is a time and motion recipe so don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
Recipe for poached cucumbers in a hot mayonnaise sauce
For four – as a starter, or to serve with drinks – if with drinks provide napkins!
- A few stems of dill
- Spanish bitter-sweet smoked paprika
- 1 medium sized cucumber
- 3 generous dessert spoons of thick greek yoghurt
- 3 generous dessert spoons of mayonnaise
- 180g/6 oz chargrilled artichoke hearts
- 1 vegetable stock cube – or 1 tsp vegetable stock
- 100g/4 oz asparagus tips
- Smoked salt
- Puffy flatbread – enough for four – depends on size
- Preheat your oven to the temperature specified on the flatbread packet.
- Boil a full kettle, and then, in a deep frying pan pour the water, add the stock powder or cube, and get it back to the boil
- Take strips off the cucumber so that it looks as if it has been striped – some peel remains in lengths. It’s easiest to do this with a potato peeler. Cut the cucumber into chunks, a couple of inches (5 cm) thick.
Add to the, by now, boiling water, reduce to a clear simmer and cover. Begin your timer for cooking for ten minutes.
- MEANWHILE put the artichoke hearts, drained of any oil they happen to be in, into a small saucepan, and warm these up on a second hob.
- Put your flatbreads into the oven to bake for whatever amount of time it says on the packet – usually about eight minutes.
- IMMEDIATELY AFTER doing that, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus (follow this link for the snapping technique, really useful) – it should now be about five minutes into the cooking of the cucumber. Add the asparagus tips to the cucumber.
- Once the artichoke hearts are definitely hot reduce the heat to the absolutely lowest you can (if you have an aga you can do this on the warming plate). Add the yoghurt and mayonnaise and warm it through.
- Once the ten minutes for the cucumber is up (and the five minutes for the asparagus tips), drain them, shake to get the surfeit of water off.
- Reserve a couple of asparagus tips, and add the rest of the cucumber and asparagus to the artichoke hearts in their sauce.
- Taste it and add salt, keep tasting.
- Turn out into a pretty bowl. Snip over the dill, and sprinkle over the paprika. Garnish with the asparagus tips.
- Take out the puffy flatbread, and serve with the salad.