It happens to the best of us: we fall in love with a dish, fold its flavor profile into our repertoire, become addicted to it, and make it a staple of our weekly dinner rotation at home. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Except that in this world of "what’s new, what’s fresh, what’s next," that dish, as righteous in its comfort as it may be, can represent a stall in a culinary development of a good dish that could be a great dish. At least that was the premise I set out with when tackling The Daily Meal’s recent recipe challenge: healthy pasta. How to reinvent a staple dish in my personal home menu rotation: a riff on the Greek cucumber, feta, and tomato salad.
It’s a great summer dish, one that goes well with every grilled vegetable and protein imaginable. Tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and feta all evenly chopped into chiclet-sized pieces that are tossed with lemon juice, a touch of olive oil, and ground black pepper. It’s refreshing, it’s healthy, it tastes salty and fresh, and the liquid that forms once everything comes together, well, it’s drinkable (and believe me, I drink it).
But as good as it is, I feel guilty after the first four times I make it during the summer because of the repetitiveness, even though it tastes so darn good. So with this week’s pasta theme, I set out to reimagine the flavors with a different format — pasta, faux pasta made of cucumber — a cool, uncooked, light, refreshing summer salad pasta.
Faux "pasta" made from vegetables isn’t a new thing, of course. You’ve probably seen a cooked zucchini "pasta" tossed with sauce on a food blog or restaurant menu somewhere. But I haven’t seen this one before. Thinly sliced cucumber "pasta" would be dressed with a cool "sauce" made with yogurt and feta. The onions from the aforementioned salad here are chopped fine and tossed with tomato. Some lemon juice, a little patience with the mandoline, and hey, it’s pretty easy, it works, it’s a little different, kind of fun, is less than 10 ingredients and a half an hour, and still has the same flavors but provides a little wow factor.
Now, instead of spoonfuls or forkfuls laden with chopped salad, you twirl your fork around thin strips of cool cucumber and look around for a piece of pita (is there a Greek term for scarpetta?). A little grilled chicken, shrimp, lamb, or vegetables, and hey, you’re set. Plus, this recipe finally addresses that question you always ask yourself: What are you supposed to do with that liquid your block of feta cheese comes in? The answer? Use it! In this recipe, it thins out the yogurt-feta "sauce" without diluting its flavor.
By the way, for those looking to never waste anything in the kitchen, cocktail enthusiasts should take advantage of the melon-balled cucumber seeds to use as garnish in summer Pimm’s cup cocktails (freezing them and using them as ice cubes can be pretty cool, too — modernist cuisine touch without the fancy work).
The only "problem"? Given my guests' reaction, this recipe for Greek salad cucumber "pasta" in yogurt-feta sauce may have just entered the regular at-home menu rotation.