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New twist on an old favorite: Marinated Asian Cucumber Salad

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Fresh long, seedless cucumbers are showing up at the farmers market and some grocery stores that carry produce from local growers. I buy cucumbers just as I buy fresh tomatoes - only in the summer when I can get them from local farmers or pluck them from the two plants I have in my little garden. To me, it's the only way to get the true clean, refreshing flavor and crisp texture that cucumbers are supposed to have.

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As I've been browsing through food magazines lately, I've seen several interesting ingredients to pair with cucumbers in a salad - watermelon, mango, avocado and cantaloupe are just a few. Those salads make my mom's cucumber salad, the one I grew up eating every summer, seem quite pale and boring. I loved the sharp taste of white vinegar sweetened with some sugar, flecks of ground black pepper catching onto each slice of cucumber as my fork carried it to my mouth. Thin, slippery cucumber seeds slid down my throat with each tart mouthful of the old-fashioned salad.

Occasionally, my mom would drown a slew of sliced cucumbers in a sour cream sauce sweetened with a bit of sugar, a little vinegar to add some zing and lots of feathery dill leaves. It was a perfect balance of flavors that became my favorite way to eat cucumbers.

These days, I think my body, especially my heart, needs to be handled with good care to help it stay healthy. That means eliminating fat from animal products from my daily food choices. Now I have a new favorite cucumber salad.

Marinated Asian Cucumber Salad is a big twist on that cucumber salad with a strong kick of vinegar that my mom used to make. Yes, the marinade has a base of vinegar, but I choose rice vinegar for its mild flavor. A small amount of freshly squeezed lime juice works like magic to bring out flavor from all of the other ingredients. A couple of teaspoons of sesame oil for distinct flavor, along with minced garlic and jalapeno produce a marinade that creates a cucumber salad that pairs nicely with any stir-fry dish as well as meat just off the grill or a vegetable-filled wrap at lunch.

It's best to allow time for the cucumber salad to soak in the marinade and get nice and cold in the refrigerator for at least a few hours before serving. Overnight is even better. Marinated Asian Cucumber Salad will keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Save fresh cilantro and toasted sesame seeds to add at serving time.

My favorite taster and dining partner sniffed the open bag of marinating cucumber and onion slices as I prepared to dish it out into our salad bowls at meal time. His reaction was cool and non-committal. He's always been a big fan of my mom's sour cream cucumbers.

As we sat together at our dining table, I could hear the crispy crunch of cucumbers in his mouth. It seemed the salad was appealing to his taste buds as he continued to poke cucumber and onion slices with his fork. "This is much better than I thought it would it be." His words came just as the last of the salad in his bowl was disappearing into his mouth.

To me, the only surprise about Marinated Asian Cucumber Salad is that its terrific flavor and texture can satisfy my taste buds just as well as mom's sour cream cucumber salad.

Marinated Asian Cucumber Salad

1 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 chubby cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 large seedless cucumber or enough to weigh about 1 1/4 pounds

1 medium onion

Toasted sesame seeds, for serving

Fresh cilantro, for serving

In a bowl, mix rice vinegar with lime juice, honey and sesame oil. When it is blended, stir in the garlic and jalapeno. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set the mixture aside.

Slice cucumber into very thin rounds. Put all the slices into a large zip-top plastic bag. Slice onion into very thin rounds and cut each round in half. Put the onion slices into the bag with the cucumber slices. Pour the marinade over all. Seal the top. Shake the bag to be sure all the cucumber and onion slices are coated. Place the bag in a shallow dish. Allow the cucumber salad to marinate in the refrigerator at least 3 hours. Overnight is even better.

At serving time, use a slotted spoon to transfer cucumber salad from bag to serving bowl or small salad bowls. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and fresh cilantro leaves over the top. Makes about 6 to 8 servings, depending on size.

Tips from the cook

--Toasted sesame oil, with its dark color, will add a more pronounced flavor to the marinade. It's what I prefer. It is often found in the International aisle of the grocery store with the Asian foods.

--Seasoned rice vinegar has added salt and sugar. I use unseasoned. Seedless cucumbers aren't really seedless, of course, but the seeds are so small that slices still look pretty with the seeds left inside.

--If you use garden cucumbers with large seeds, cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, then slice the cucumbers.

--If you don't care for cilantro, chop up some fresh mint leaves and sprinkle them over the top of the salad.

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