There’s a Chicago neighborhood called Andersonville that spreads out from the intersection of Clark and Foster. The neighborhood has changed so much since my visits as a child. Back then, the main strip was lined with many Swedish shops, restaurants and delis. It’s where we picked up our pantry staples and Swedish Limpa bread (a dense, slightly sweet rye bread with a hint of anise — to die for good).
Now, most of the Swedish shops that anchored the neighborhood are gone. Gentrification nudged out the old and ushered in the new. Although I miss the old stores, the neighborhood is now filled with chic boutiques and an eclectic assortment of ethnic restaurants. My husband’s and my favorite is a tiny Middle Eastern restaurant on Foster just west of Clark called Taste of Lebanon. There are about 10 tables, which are always filled. And in the back is a woman who works all day, non-stop, chopping up fresh vegetables.
The first thing we order is this salad. The freshly cut tomatoes and cucumbers with tahini dressing has an exotic taste that, if you close your eyes on a really hot day (they don’t have air conditioning) and savor the smells wafting out of the kitchen, you can almost picture yourself in a café on the banks of the Borphorus Strait in Istanbul…… Okay, maybe that’s stretching it a bit, but you get the idea. The food is fresh, authentic and delicious.
This dish is offered up differently from restaurant to restaurant, but the base is always tomatoes and cucumbers with tahini dressing. I like to add onions and parsley, the dark color of which really makes this dish pop.
A couple of notes about the dressing. First, don’t freak out when you start mixing the lemon juice with the tahini and it looks like it going to curdle. Just keep stirring until the curdle texture goes away. Then it will start to get really thick, really fast with each stir. After it becomes almost paste-like, you can start thinning it out to your desired consistency by adding a tablespoon of water at a time. I usually make a double or triple batch because it goes really fast!
And a word of caution: unless you want the entire salad to turn a light shade of pink, keep the dressing in a separate container and pour it on right before serving. The first time I made this, I woke up the next morning and found a big pink bowl of vegetables in the fridge. It still tasted great, but didn’t look so hot.
Tip: in order to make this “fast & easy”, I use a Vidalia Chop Wizard, especially when making extra large batches.
1 English cucumber (unpeeled) – medium dice
2-3 medium tomatoes – medium dice
½ cup parsley – finely chopped
½ small Vidalia onion – thinly sliced in half moons
½ cup tahini
1-2 lemons – juiced
2 cloves garlic – finely minced or run through a garlic press
sea salt to taste
- Combine the cucumber, tomatoes, onion and parsley in a mixing bowl.
- To make the dressing add the lemon juice to the tahini in a small mixing bowl. Using a fork, stir quickly until it becomes a thick paste. Thin out to desired texture by adding a tablespoon of water at a time. Once the desired consistency is reach, add the garlic and salt to taste. I like my dressing very lemon-y so feel free to add extra if you so desire.
- Chill salad and dressing in separate containers.
- Pour dressing over salad immediately before serving.