Ina Garten's Yogurt Tip For Creamier Cucumber Salad

Cucumbers are a common ingredient in tossed salads year-round, but this fruit doesn't need to be relegated to a supporting role when it's in season. Sliced cucumbers are delicious sprinkled with a bit of rice wine vinegar or eaten whole with a pinch of salt. May through August is the peak season when you'll find sweet varieties at roadside stands and farmers' markets, which conveniently corresponds to grilling season.

As the weather heats up, creamy cucumber salad is the perfect recipe to accompany anything coming off the grill. Ina Garten combines sour cream, whole milk yogurt, and lots of fresh dill to make a tangy dressing that cuts through rich meats. The dish should be assembled a few hours before it's enjoyed to allow the flavors to meld. Unfortunately, the yogurt releases a lot of water as the salad sits, diluting the flavors if not addressed. Fortunately, Garten has a tip for creamier cucumber salads.

The Barefoot Contessa strains the yogurt in a fine-mesh colander lined with paper towels or cheesecloth. She sets the strainer over a large bowl to collect the draining liquid, and places it in the refrigerator. After roughly four hours, a substantial amount of liquid collects in the bottom bowl, which is then discarded, leaving the yogurt much thicker. While this may seem like a lot of waiting, the cucumbers also need that time to shed their moisture.

Eliminating excess moisture is key

Cucumbers are 96% water, so whether you're coating the salad in a creamy dressing or a light vinaigrette, it's crucial to drain some of their liquid to avoid mushy results. Fruits and vegetables with a high water content, like zucchini and tomatoes, can also benefit from this step before being added to a salad to ensure the most concentrated flavors and the best textures.

Similar to Ina Garten's tip for thickening yogurt, she coats the cucumbers in salt to keep them crunchy. Garten arranges the cucumber slices in a colander set over a large mixing bowl to draw out some of the fruit's water content. You'll need about a teaspoon of salt for every pound of cucumbers in the recipe. Place the draining cucumbers in the fridge with the yogurt for four hours, allowing the salt time to penetrate. When ready, gently dry the slices with paper towels, removing moisture from the surface so the dressing adheres better. Those on a low-salt diet can rinse the cucumber slices before patting them dry to remove excess sodium.

At this point, you can whisk together the dressing and finish assembling the cucumber salad, then let it sit in the refrigerator for a few more hours for the flavors to meld. To expedite prep time, consider substituting thicker Greek yogurt or labneh for plain yogurt. This adjustment allows the dressing's flavors to blend while the cucumbers drain, enabling you to enjoy the salad sooner.

Tips for making cucumber salad

Your go-to creamy cucumber salad recipe may include sour cream or mayonnaise in the dressing, which can also dilute it. Although sour cream has a thicker consistency than plain yogurt, straining it can transform sour cream into a texture more akin to créme fraîche. As for the mayo, consider using a thicker variety like Kewpie, which is made with egg yolks and will benefit the salad with its MSG content.

If an impromptu cookout doesn't give you four hours to prepare a cucumber salad, try smashing the cucumbers into rustic pieces instead of slicing them to release excess water faster. Additionally, you can eliminate much of the water by removing the seeds, which is seen in Lucky Peach's Chineasy cucumber salad method. After deseeding, the fruit is gently smashed with the side of a cleaver or chef's knife to crack the surface, creating jagged crevices that better hold the flavorful dressing. Sections impacted by the knife also develop a gel-like texture, which helps thicken vinaigrettes.

To make a meal out of cucumbers, incorporate whole grains, like in this recipe for buckwheat salad with feta and smashed cucumbers. Or, pair cucumbers with fruit in our umeboshi salad with plums for a delightful combination of sweet and savory flavors.