Cucumber salad with dill and sour cream just screams summer and Scandinavia. So when I planned my Scandinavian Midsummer Porch Party, I knew it had to be included.
Agurksalat is the Norwegian name of cucumber salad, but funnily enough, most cucumber "salads" in Scandinavia are more like quick cucumber pickles - thinly sliced cucumbers are covered with a brine of vinegar, salt, and sugar, with fresh dill. This salad is often used to accompany fish, or as a topping for rye bread and liver pate. But where I was growing up in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, cucumber salad was made with sour cream.
I wonder if these salads weren't invented to use up the bumper crops of cucumbers that often result. Certainly in Scandinavia they were historically celebrated as a herald of spring, and were eaten only for the short months they were available in outdoor gardens, mostly June and July.
In the US, especially the Upper Midwest, the cucumbers are often peeled, but I'm a big fan of English/burpless/seedless/Persian cucumbers, which are thinner skinned, less bitter, and more crisp than their larger counterparts. These cucumbers are perfect for salads as they're crisp enough to hold up under dressings but tender enough to taste more like garden-grown.
I am not particularly a fan of the sweet-sour brine (which seems to also be used to pickle herring!), and dislike bread and butter pickles for this reason, so my cucumber salad recipe doesn't include any sugar. This last-minute addition ended up being one of the surprise smash hits of the afternoon, and I sent the little bit that was left home with a friend and her kids, who kept going back for seconds.
Scandinavian Cucumber Salad
If you want a more traditional salad, google "agurksalat," but if you want something traditionally Midwestern Scandinavian-American, and surprisingly refreshing on a hot day, stay with me.
6 mini Persian cucumbers, or 1 large English cucumber
1 teaspoon salt
white wine vinegar
full fat sour cream
Wash and thinly slice the cucumber - not paper-thin, but thinner than a quarter inch. Add salt to the bowl and toss the cucumber slices to coat. Let rest for 15 minutes, then drain off the juice. If you're avoiding salt, feel free to give them a little rinse and drain again. Slice the scallions paper-thin, and add to the cucumbers with a splash of vinegar and a dollop of sour cream. Toss everything together until the cucumbers are coated with the vinegar-sour cream mixture. Serve cold or cool. The cucumbers will be salty and crisp and the creamy-sour dressing will be very addictive. Great as an accompaniment to sandwiches, grilled fish or meats, or as one of a variety of cold salads served for a light supper.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.
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