Why It Works
- Salting and draining cucumbers gets rid of excess moisture without sacrificing crunch.
- Whisking a small amount of water into a mixture of tahini and lemon juice helps create a smooth sauce.
- The brightness of fresh dill balances the nutty richness of tahini.
After I’ve consumed my share of the meat, carbs, and drinks available at any picnic or barbeque, I find myself desperately looking around for something fresh and light and hopefully not drenched in mayo to round out the meal. Something like this cucumber salad: spears of crisp, crunchy Persian cucumber coated in a bright and nutty tahini sauce flavored with lemon, dill, shallots, and garlic.
I like using Persian cucumbers for this salad, as they're thin-skinned, petite, and have relatively few seeds; they're also crunchy and have concentrated flavor. However, I’ve made this salad with English or cocktail cucumbers, and they also work quite well.
While Persian cucumbers aren't as wet as other varieties, I still like to salt and drain them, which gets rid of water that would otherwise dilute the creamy dressing. It also makes the cucumber spears a little crunchier. The salted cucumbers can sit while you make the dressing; when you're ready to add them, just pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel or some paper towels.
The creamy part of this salad comes from tahini paste. You only need a small amount to make a light sauce. Before measuring out the tahini, I recommend giving the jar a few stirs to incorporate the separated oil and even out the consistency. When you combine the tahini with lemon juice, it will temporarily seize up, but once you add a little water and whisk it in the mixture will become quite smooth. Keep in mind that a new jar of tahini may have a thinner consistency than one that’s previously been opened. I tried this recipe with both and was able to keep my proportions the same, but if your dressing seems a little too thick, just add more water in 1/4-teaspoon increments.
With crisp and cool cucumbers, rich tahini, and bright lemon and dill, this refreshing salad will be a welcome addition on any picnic table.
- 1 pound (450g) Persian cucumbers (about 5 cucumbers), ends trimmed, cut into 3- by 5/8-inch spears (see note)
- 3/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, divided; for table salt, use half as much by volume
- 1 tablespoon (15g) tahini paste
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) fresh lemon juice plus 1/4 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon, divided
- 2 tablespoons (6g) finely chopped fresh dill, plus fronds for garnishing
- 1 small garlic clove, finely grated or minced
- 1/2 shallot (20g), finely minced
In a large bowl, add cucumber spears and 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss to combine. Transfer cucumbers to a colander and set inside large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Pat cucumbers dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel; set aside. Discard any accumulated liquid and wipe out bowl.
In now-empty bowl, add tahini and lemon juice and whisk to combine; the mixture will seize and turn pasty. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons cold water and whisk until a smooth sauce forms. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, lemon zest, dill, garlic, and shallot, and whisk to combine. The sauce should very slowly lose its shape if you let ribbons of it drop from the whisk into the bowl (if sauce is too thick, whisk in cold water in 1/4-teaspoon increments to achieve desired consistency).
Add cucumber spears and toss until evenly coated with sauce. Transfer to a serving plate, garnish with dill, and serve.
To substitute English or cocktail cucumbers, replace with an equal amount by weight. Trim ends and cut into 3- by 5/8-inch wide spears.
Make-ahead and Storage
Tahini sauce can be prepared in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
The cucumber salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Serve cold or at room temperature.