One of my favorite gifts to give and receive is a great book. I haven’t always been a voracious reader–I’ve gone through cycles. In elementary school, I would lug bagfuls of books from the library–nothing too heavy, mentally, but enough to keep me occupied and entertained. In late junior high and early high school, I sort of rebelled against reading. I was convinced that there were better things to do–flirt with boys, watch 90210, copy the answers to my algebra homework from the back of the book. You get the idea.
In college, I majored in sociology and re-discovered just how great reading was. I recognized the power of books to educate, to empower, to lift you up when you were down, to teach you about compassion, to open your eyes to things that might be happening right on your street. At first, I had so much school-related reading, I could hardly find the time to read anything but. Soon, though, I started realizing that I needed a break from reading about such heavy subjects like genocide, suicide, gentrification and segregation. I started picking up books at the library. And I started re-discovering the gift of literary works of fiction. From that time, I have rarely not been reading a book. I finish one and I start another, the same way you’d replace your toothbrush, or charge your iPhone.
Over the years, I’ve realized that reading isn’t a solitary activity; it’s a shared experience amongst friends, if you’re lucky. Luckily for me, my friends and my family, are pretty voracious readers, too. And they’re all about introducing each other to great works of fiction and nonfiction. In the last few years, as my love for food has blossomed into somewhat of an obsession, most of them have caught on to the fact that beyond my usual literary interests, I also get pretty excited about cookbooks. For my birthday this year, my friend Lauren gifted me with a book that will hopefully keep on giving (not just for me, but for my friends and family).
The first thing that I chose to cook from Williams Sonoma’s ‘Cooking for Friends‘–a spectacularly gorgeous book that I have ogled over for days now, is a salad that drew from a family staple: a combination of cucumbers and dill. This salad, though, had a few sophisticated twists: paper-thin cucumber slices, delicate red onion, mint, dill and rice vinegar. Combined, this salad was something of a European/Japanese twist.
I loved how light and refreshing it was, perfect as a starter, or a side to some fish or shrimp. I’ve already made it twice, and wouldn’t be surprised if it became my summer staple.
Shaved Cucumber Salad with Red Onion and Herbs
adapted from ‘Cooking for Friends: Fresh Ways to Entertain with Style’
2 large cucumbers, shaved thinly using a mandoline
1/2 a red onion, also shaved into thin slices using a mandoline
3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
4 tablespoons of olive oil
freshly ground pepper and sea salt, to taste
1. Combine the first five ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to mix well.
2. Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste
Musical Pairings: Lykke Li – Youth Novels + Shaved Cucumber Salad
Cucumber, dill, mint and red onion. It’s a pretty simple salad recipe: light, crisp, and fresh. It’s a great summer/spring dish. Swedish indie-pop artist Lykke Li‘s album Youth Novels, which is also simple, light, crisp, and fresh, is a great pairing for this recipe. Her simple, hushed vocals are smooth and clean, balanced by the quirky, minimalist instrumentation and bass. Lykke Li has received an amazingly abundant amount of love from just about everyone in the music industry including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Q Magazine, MTV, and even American Idol (this past season featured a segment with the Idol contestants covering Li’s “I’m Good, I’m Gone”). Head over to Musical Pairings‘ home for the complete review. –Matthew