On The Side: Marinated Cucumber Salad

It’s summertime, and unless you live in the Arctic or have spent the last 6 weeks under your covers with the A/C blasting, you know it’s getting super hot. Something that’s always left me perplexed is that the go-to summer side dish is potato salad. Hey, if you love it, that’s fine, but the idea of all that mayonnaise sitting under the blazing sun at a cook out… I’m all set, thanks.

I often see these containers of marinated cucumbers in the prepared food section of the grocery store. While picking one of those up would be an easy shortcut, sometimes the store can really drive the price up. So stroll on past, head to produce, and get your own.

Everything in this recipe I had on hand in my pantry or fridge. All I need to do was grab some Persian cucumbers, and I was able to make double the portion offered in the deli section, at a fraction of the cost.

Hey…. what the heck is a Persian cucumber exactly?

They are small, only about 6 inches long (hold your jokes) with virtually no seeds. They have a much more concentrated, sweet flavor, that hold up very well to all the other flavors we are going to add in. They usually come in a pack or bag of 5. You can use any cuke you like, but I highly recommend the Persian ones.

  • 2 cups sliced Persian cucumbers (approx. 5 cucumbers)
  • 1 sliced shallot
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice the cucumbers very thinly. Peel & thinly slice the shallot as well.
  2. In a bowl, combine the orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce & sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the garlic, dill, crushed red pepper & ginger. Whisk together while slowly drizzling in the olive oil. Add the sliced cucumber & shallot, tossing to coat.
  3. Cover tightly & refrigerate for at least 2 hours to overnight. Serve chilled.

If you don’t have fish sauce, you could substitute sesame oil. Fish sauce is one of those ingredients that smells crazy, but a little goes a long way in adding depth of flavor. It’s that funky little note you can’t quite put your finger on.

Instinctually, I would have reached for some fresh lime juice as my citrus component, but funny little story: My husband loves a good old fashioned which requires a sliver of orange rind in it. I will get an orange, peel it, and make as many pieces as I can and freeze them so that they are always available for a quick cocktail. I happened to be doing this the other day, so I decided to juice the orange and use it for this recipe. I always prefer fresh citrus juice in recipes, but I won’t be mad if you want to take advantage of OJ you already have in the fridge. Just avoid pulp.

The first thing you taste in this dish is a great balance of sweet and sour, with a little kick of spice at the end from the crushed red pepper (which you can leave out to make it a little more family friendly). It’s the perfect companion for cook out staples like saucy ribs or spicy wings. They are great on the side of a burger or grilled chicken sandwich, but even better as a topping.


Or you can be like me, and spend all day picking at them out of the fridge as a snack because they can get a little addicting.

Can we talk about how easy it was too? The bulk of the work is just slicing the cucumbers. If you want paper thin slices, use a mandolin (carefully) but I like using my knife and keeping the slices a tiny bit thicker so that they still have a nice crunch to them.

The best part is making it the day ahead so you don’t have to worry about it. If you bring it out to a cook out, I’d suggest keeping the serving vessel on ice so that they keep that chilled factor that is oh-so refreshing on a scorching summer afternoon.

Stay cool, everyone! I’ll be back again soon with some more fun summer ideas.

On The Side: Veggie & Sweet Corn Stir-Fry

I’m a few days behind on blogging, but I have a good excuse, like I always do. We spent a week in Hawaii, house hunting! I don’t want to say too much and jinx anything, but I think I’ll have some good news to share in one of my next posts.

It was also my 31st birthday the last day we were in Hawaii. Everyone was saying how great it was to spend it there, but in reality, it was the most stressful day of the whole trip. We made an offer on one house and after a lot of ridiculous back and forth, phone calls and emails, the deal wasn’t going anywhere. We realized this home wasn’t going to be for us just as we boarded our red-eye home. The process is exciting and fun at times, but I was also so exhausted by it.

Everything happens for reason (at least, I sure hope so) and I’m confident that the direction we are going in now is the right one. Whatever house we wind up in, dude, it’s on the island of Oahu. It’s amazing. It’s like 1/3 beautiful beaches, 1/3 urban/suburban wonderland and 1/3 giant Jurassic Park mountains. No really, Jurassic Park was filmed there and I plan on eventually going on ALL THE TOURS!

I’m realizing this is the second post in a row that I’ve shown love to movies from 1993. (Hocus Pocus came up in my last one.) Obviously, this was the golden era of films. And obviously, I’ve gone a little crazy with the hyperlinks. Maybe it’s time to get to recipe?

This side dish came about after we got home from our trip. It was a week of eating and drinking in vacation mode, which isn’t always the best. I was craving fresh vegetables, we didn’t have anything in our fridge, and I stupidly went to the store without a list. I just picked out a bunch of veggies.


Sweet peppers, those look pretty. An onion, super. Oh, we haven’t had asparagus in a while.” -my inner grocery store monologue.

Once I got home, I grabbed some chicken out of the freezer to thaw and noticed I had a couple bags of frozen sweet corn hanging out in there. Lightbulb moment. Time to break out the wok, we’ve got a stir-fry on our hands.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped (about a cup)
  • 10-15 small sweet peppers, chopped & seeded (about 2 cups)
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped & seeded
  • 4 oz chopped asparagus (about 1 cup)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1.tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 10 oz bag frozen sweet corn
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 3 Tbsp pesto sauce
  • zest & juice of 1 lemon
  1. Heat oil in a wok or a deep pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring often, until they start to become translucent.
  2. Add the sweet peppers, jalapeno, asparagus, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, basil and oregano. Toss the ingredients together and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Turn the heat to medium, add the bag of frozen corn and toss to incorporate. Cover the pan for 2 minutes.
  4. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the spinach, pesto sauce and lemon zest and juice. Toss and stir constantly for about 2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted and the veggies are tender.
  5. Strain to remove excess liquid and serve alongside your favorite protein.

There are two key tricks here. First, prep everything and have it ready to go when you turn on the stove, because it only takes a few minutes and you’re going to be stirring a lot. You just want to grab the next thing and dump it in.


Chopping vegetables is like meditation for me

The second trick is that all the veggies should be cut down to similar sizes. They will cook more evenly if they’re as uniform as possible.

The pesto was a last minute addition. I was planning on just using the olive oil and lemon juice to keep it light and fresh. I was tasting as I was cooking, and felt like it needed something to bring it all together. I found a jar of store-bought basil pesto and figured that was pretty in line with the herbs I had already added. It was just enough to really punch up the flavor, without overwhelming or weighing down the dish. Actually, when I told my husband what was in it, he said he would have never guess there was pesto in it.


The full meal

I plated this up with some spicy chicken tenders and mashed potatoes, both homemade. This recipe will make 4-6 servings easily, so I also grilled some chicken to prep a couple lunches.


Much better than a PB&J, don’t you think?

This would also be really lovely on a platter with some salmon or scallops over the top. The leftovers are great to wrap up in a burrito with some ground beef, or with beans and rice if you are vegetarian. A vegetable stir fry is such an easy way to make a colorful, fresh side dish that can work for almost any dish.

Fingers crossed that the next time I post I will have good news on the house front! Until then… happy cooking!

Mediterranean-Spiced Chicken Sandwiches

Most people would say their favorite thing about summer is the weather or being on vacation. Well, here in southern California, as an adult with no children, those distinctions aren’t as prevalent in my life. My favorite part is spending time with loved ones. Summer means beach trips, pool days and cook-outs. It means parties!

I’m lucky to be surrounded by a great group of friends here in Ventura county, but being a military spouse means moving around a lot and next fall we will be on to our next adventure (stay tuned for that official announcement in a couple months… it’s pretty exciting!). I’m looking forward to some fun times and day trips while we are still California residents.

Summer is also time for friends from all over the country to come visit us, and we’re working on our own plans to visit them too! Travel has been on my brain lately, especially when I was coming up with this weeks recipe.

Travel… summer… cook-outs… naturally, this lead me to creating a chicken sandwich. I don’t eat red meat, so the chicken sandwich is my burger. The problem with chicken on a grill is it can be so dry and bland, so my go-to move was to drown it with hot sauce.


Don’t you dare put hot sauce on this

Here’s my new alternative: mediterranean-spiced chicken sandwiches with marinated cucumbers & onions and a lemon-dill yogurt sauce. It sounds like a tall order for grilling out, but you can prep everything the night before. There are three parts to this recipe, so let’s break it down!

Marinated Cucumbers & Onions

  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dill weed
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • dash of salt & pepper
  1. Slice the cucumber, preferably with a mandolin, so it’s paper thin. Divide the cucumber & sliced onions into two mason jars (or any glassware with an air-tight lid).
  2. In a bowl, combine the water, vinegar and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rest of the ingredients (you can omit the crushed red pepper if you do not want heat) and pour into the jars, making sure all the veggies are submerged. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before use.

These are so delicious, I was snacking on them while I was working on everything else. This will make much more than you need for a couple sandwiches, but keep it around for a couple weeks in the fridge, throw them on every sandwich you can think of! They are also a great little side dish.


Pretty enough for a photo… I’ll spare you a photo of the yogurt sauce

Lemon-Dill Yogurt Sauce

  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dill weed
  • 1/2 lemon, zest & juice
  • dash of salt & pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl & whisk until well-incorporated.

That’s it! Easy. Again, you will probably have left overs, but this a great alternative spread for mayo or ranch on sandwiches. Also, it’s great to use as a dip for veggies for your afternoon snack! Last but not least…

Mediterranean-Spiced Chicken Breast

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  1. Cover the chicken with plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound the chicken until it’s 1/2″ thick all around. Trim down to “sandwich size”. (Save your scraps!)
  2. Brush chicken breasts with EVOO. Mix the spices together in a small bowl, and rub generously onto both sides of the chicken. Use right away, or refrigerate up to overnight.
  3. Grill the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side over medium heat, flipping once, until it reaches 165 degrees internally.

OK! Here’s the star of the show. This chicken is delicious on it’s own for a weeknight dinner over rice or veggies, and can totally just be cooked in the oven instead of on the grill. I actually used a grill pan on my stove-top, because I don’t have my own backyard here in my townhouse. Womp, womp.

My recipe is only for two breasts/sandwiches because it’s just me and hubby over here, but it’s pretty easy to double this one up. (The cucumber and yogurt sauce recipes will make enough for like 8 sandwiches, at least.)

I have a complex where I hate when ingredients are two small or two large for the sandwich, hence my note to trim down to “sandwich size”. If I end up taking a lot of decent meat off, I save the trimmings. Keep them in the fridge for a stir-fry or a pasta dish.


Naked chicken, waiting for all the toppings

Now that we have everything we need…

BUILD THAT SANDWICH!

Do I really need to do bullet points here? Take your favorite, hearty sandwich roll and lightly toast it. Top it with the chicken, right off the grill. Pile on those marinated cucumber and onions. Add something fresh and green, like arugula. Spread that yogurt sauce evenly on the top bun, smush it all together and go to town.

As for the potato wedges, those are just russet potatoes that I sliced and soaked in water for an hour. Then you rinse and dry them, toss them with a dash of salt, pepper, garlic, parsley & paprika and bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes. Ta-da!


Would you like fries with that?

I’m actually mildly obsessed with this sandwich. The chicken is so yummy… we did used half the spice rack on it for good reason. The cucumbers and onions are spicy, sweet and tangy all at once without overpowering the other elements. The yogurt sauce brings it all together, with a bright, fresh note from the lemon and dill. I like greens on my sandwiches, so I also added arugula, but you could use any leafy greens you like and have on hand.

OK, honestly, since I have sat down to type this out, I have gotten up twice. First was to get the jar of cucumbers, which I have been picking at ever since and second was to make sure I had more chicken defrosted (I do, yay!) because now I’m craving one of these bad boys.

I love recipes were I can prep components ahead of time, so when I am hungry and want food in face immediately, it’s not a hassle. When the cook-out starts, it will take you just as long to put this sandwich together as it would a burger with ketchup, tomato and lettuce. And trust me, anyone who thought a burger was the right choice will take one look at this and change their minds.


Couldn’t even make it through the photo shoot

Happy Summer everyone! I’ll be back sooner than later with a couple bonus mini-recipes. See you then!