Every couple of years, Instagram blows up with the latest-greatest food blogger whose recipes and photos are so captivating that they are irresistible to anyone who happens to stumble upon them.
Meet the new “It” girl — if you haven’t already: Alison Roman.
The native of Los Angeles who now calls Brooklyn home is a regular columnist for the New York Times food section and Bon Appetit magazine.
Blonde and bubbly, she’s like the girl next door — who can not only cook, but will always invite you over to sit down at her table.
Because when it comes to entertaining, she believes in nothing fancy.
Indeed, that’s the title of her new cookbook, which encourages you to take a deep breath, and stop stressing about cooking for others.“Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy, is all about making entertaining easy with fuss-free, crowd-pleasing dishes that make people feel at home from the get go.
Take a go at dishes such as “Mustardy Green Beans with Anchovyed Walnuts,” “One-Pot Chicken with Dates and Caramelized Lemons,” “Kimchi-Braised Pork with Sesame and Egg Yolk” and “Salted Honey Panna Cotta with Crushed Raspberries.”
I love smashed cucumbers, one of the easiest side dishes or salads around. As the name implies, you use a meat mallet or bottom of a skillet to smash chunks of cucumbers, creating all these craggy crevices just made for soaking up a flavorful sauce. Traditionally, this is a Chinese dish made with soy sauce and plenty of garlic.
Roman, however, puts her own twist on it with “Smashed Cucumbers with Sizzled Turmeric and Garlic.” It’s a fun version that is more delicate tasting than the traditional robust salty, briny, garlicky Chinese one.
Plenty of chopped garlic gets toasted in 1/2 cup of grapeseed oil to form the basis of the dressing. That may seem like a lot of oil — and it is. But you want an ample amount in the pot so that the garlic is completely covered and won’t burn easily.
Turmeric is added to the pot after the garlic is slightly golden. If you use fresh turmeric, as I did, the flavor will be more subtle than if you use powdered turmeric, because you will really only notice the taste if you bite down on a piece of it. With the powdered turmeric, the taste will be more widely dispersed throughout the dish.
The flavored oil is drizzled over the smashed cucumbers that have been seasoned with a little distilled white vinegar. Scallions, fresh mint, and dill get scattered overtop.
If you use 6 Persian cucumbers or 2 hothouse ones as the recipe originally stipulated, you will have leftover garlic oil. You can store it in the fridge, bring it back to room temperature and use it on another salad the next day. Or you can increase the number of cucumbers to 9 Persian or 3 hothouse ones as I added to the recipe, which will enable you to use of almost all of the oil.
The cucumbers are crunchy and quenching, full of garlicky and herbaceous flavors. They make for a great accompaniment to almost any grilled or roasted seafood, meat or poultry. Or as a side to a favorite sandwich.
So the next time you invite friends or family over, make sure to make a big batch. No heavy lifting required.
Smashed Cucumbers with Sizzled Turmeric and Garlic
(Serves 4 to 6)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1-inch knob fresh turmeric, coarsely chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, plus more for seasoning
9 Persian cucumbers, or 3 hothouse cucumbers, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 scallions or 1 spring onion, green and white parts thinly sliced
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, white wine vinegar, or rice wine vinegar, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh mixed herbs, such as dill and mint, tender leaves and stems or more to taste
Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, swirling the pot occasionally, until the garlic is sizzling loudly and looks (and smells) delightfully toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the turmeric and flaky salt and swirl the pot. Remove from the heat; set aside.
Place the cucumbers in a large resealable plastic bag and season with salt. Using a heavy skillet, rolling pin, or anything heavy, smash the cucumbers until they split and explode a bit. Let them sit a few minutes to release some of that water.
Drain the cucumbers, discarding any liquid. Combine cucumbers, scallions, and vinegar in a large serving bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and more vinegar. Drizzle with the toasted garlic oil, letting it run into the tiny scraggly bits. Scatter wit the herbs before serving.
Do Ahead: Cucumbers can be smashed a few hours ahead, draining and seasoning before serving. Crunchy garlic and turmeric oil can be made 2 days ahead, covered, and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before using.
Adapted from “Nothing Fancy” by Alison Roman
More Delicious Ways to Use Cucumbers: Hoisin-Glazed Lamb Burgers