Versatile and crisp, cucumbers prove they’re more than a big dill
by Clint Smith // photography by Jana Jones
Chopped Cucumber Salad at Tried & True Alehouse
2800 S. State Road 135, Greenwood, triedandtruealehouse.com, (317) 530-2706
In addition to being an exercise in alliteration, summer salads are a celebration of peak ingredients. In the Midwest, it can be a showcase boasting a bounty of garden gold. But with all things that grow maybe a little too familiar, seasonal salads run the risk of redundancy. Manager Cristian Delgado and his crew at Tried & True Alehouse hope to remedy this potential dilemma.
“Our chopped cucumber salad is different from your traditional menu salad or Caprese,” says Delgado. “Cucumbers are crisp and cool, giving them a much different texture than a lettuce salad. I think that’s a big part of why our local guests appreciate the dish. It’s filling and refreshing, year-round, and it’s a great healthy option.”
Delgado explains that while the core concept of the dish eventually evolved over the years, there remains the steadfast commitment to fresh ingredients — a hallmark of the salad’s success. “The different flavor profiles between the cucumber, basil and balsamic play together so well, and the added crunch from the cucumbers really brings it home. We have guests who get the chopped cucumber salad every time they visit.” Though vying for competitive popularity is Tried & True’s crispy Brussels sprouts appetizer, what Delgado describes as a “uniquely delicious” menu feature.
Sure, Tried & True is known locally for its daily drink specials (not to mention the occasional tap takeovers as it collaborates with Indiana breweries), but throughout the summer, keep your eyes peeled on the work-week lunch specials. “We really value our community support and encourage everyone to come try something new with the changing seasons.”
Blackened Mahi-Mahi at Stone Creek Dining Co.
911 N. State Road 135, Greenwood, stonecreekdining.com, (317) 889-1200
As a menu item staple, the blackened mahi-mahi has possessed impressive longevity with Stone Creek Dining Co. Though he cannot confirm the anecdote, Michael Brown, director of operations for Cunningham Restaurant Group, says the dish has been a patron favorite for well over a decade and believes it may have emerged as far back as the restaurant’s opening in 1997.
Accompanied by Cajun dirty rice (“dirty” being a creole term for the addition of various savory proteins, in this case bacon), avocado and cilantro aioli, the mahi-mahi dish is really a study in contrasts, with a black bean and cucumber salsa playing a critical gustatory role.
“I think the cucumber aspect works here in two ways,” Brown suggests. “It helps cool the spicy profiles of the dish, as well as adding a little overall texture.” And that bed of savory, bacon-infused rice delivers additional notes of smoke. And even with all these distinct dimensions, Brown points out that the dish itself is rather approachable. “Most people are familiar with mahi-mahi,” he says. “It can certainly apparel to a variety of palates.”
Of course, endurance is a dependable litmus test for any menu item, but it doesn’t hurt when even the boss is a fan. Brown says Mike Cunningham, founder and CEO of CRG Dining, often orders the blackened mahi-mahi when he visits the southside Stone Creek. “It seems to be an item our owner certainly enjoys.”
Brown looks at the summer calendar with hopes of returning Stone Creek’s popular meat-and-cheese board, along with adding a burger from Bru Burger Bar (also a CRG restaurant) and potentially a “higher-end steak cut — something we have never offered at Stone Creek.” And with only the miso salmon standing as a menu item contender in the seafood category, plan on the blackened mahi-mahi sticking around indefinitely.
Cucumber Margarita at Blue Cactus
188 W. Jefferson St., Franklin, Facebook @ Blue-Cactus-Cactus-Tacos-Tequila-Bar, (317) 868-5200
This summer marks the one-year anniversary of Franklin welcoming Blue Cactus Tacos & Tequila Bar as its neighbor; and while owner Jose Murillo isn’t the only restaurateur who faced acute challenges in the past 18 months, he maintains a vibrancy rivaled only by his high-spirited libations. “Fresh, cool, light [and] hydrating,” is how Murillo describes Blue Cactus’ cucumber margarita. A staple since the restaurant’s opening in June 2020, the drink was conceived as an antidote to the summer heat.
“The cucumber margarita,” says Murillo, “is a perfect blend of fresh and lightly sweet flavors, with a hint of spice from the Tajin rim” — and there’s the “kicker.” Blue Cactus’ riff on the traditional margarita rim (which is commonly coarse salt but can be sugar in some cases) uses Tajin, a popular spice mix of salt, lime and chili. When paired with the ice-cold cucumber and gold tequila, the contrast is a refreshing hint of citrus and spice. “It is a perfect drink for southsiders and Franklin residents to enjoy on the hot summer days and nights here in the Midwest,” he adds.
Murillo is keen on the legitimacy of his libations. “Nothing is premade,” he says. All Blue Cactus’ margaritas are handcrafted, organic and use fresh fruit — or, in this case, fresh cucumbers. “Not much can rival our cucumber margarita,” Murillo says, noting its soothing flavor profile, but with drinks like the watermelon margarita and pineapple margarita, Blue Cactus is in no short supply of potent palliatives. Because each bar-based beverage is made from scratch, Murillo’s message to Blue Cactus patrons is that “each drink is special.”
And if decisions are a dilemma, check out Blue Cactus’ margarita flights, which offer sippable samples from a wide variety of its ice-cold concoctions.
Kani Salad at Kumo Japanese Steak House
1051 W. Jefferson St., Franklin, Kumofranklin.com, (317) 736-5838
With their crisp texture, cool flesh and mildly bitter bite, it’s an acknowledgment in the culinary craft that cucumbers are perfectly employed across the spectrum of Japanese cuisine, sushi in particular. And although Japanese cucumbers resemble their English relatives, the noticeably narrow Japanese variety are unmistakable for their thin skin and for containing very few seeds.
Kani, as manager Tin Lin explains, is the Japanese word for crab. While the crustacean is the star, it’s the cucumber that provides integral culinary counterpoints. In the kani salad, fresh cucumber contributes not only crunchy-cool characteristics but supplies a bit of body to an already delicate composition. Cucumber figures in with its refreshing punch but also works as a foil to the drizzle of spicy Japanese mayonnaise that, like many sushi offerings, is utilized to garnish the salad. A salty accessory comes with the addition of masago: tiny, glossy roe that, with their vivid orange color, are both ubiquitous and integral to Japanese cuisine. With all these visually and palate-appealing ingredients, think of the kani salad as a deconstructed sushi roll.
More than 10 years have passed since Kumo opened its doors to the Franklin community, and it continues to solidify its neighborly reputation by providing a genuine dining experience for hibachi habitués. But another barometer for quality in Japanese cuisine is sushi. With fresh and cold characteristics, Kumo’s extensive sushi list, Lin suggests, “is good for the (summer) season.” Lin directs patrons to a dish made special this summer called the Hawaii roll: spicy tuna, sliced avocado, fresh mango and a chef’s “special sauce.”