This is a summer dish–a fresh-picked-from-the-garden salad.
Step carefully through your garden at just the right time of the day. It should be late in the afternoon, when the heat of the sunshine has caused everything there to reach upward toward the sun, and all the leaves are dry. You should have a quaint woven basket hung on the crook of your arm. Or a big sunny yellow mixing bowl cradled there. A basket is better…you need two hands for some things. A big yellow dog should be watching you from the edge of the garden, because she’s a good girl and listens when you tell her to stay and wait.
Carefully twist a few youthful cucumbers from the vines. Not the babies, and not the mature adults with all those seeds. Maybe you have the cucumbers that don’t have big seeds. Even better. Lay them gently in your basket.
Move carefully across the rows to the place where you’ve planted your hot Hungarian banana peppers. Pick two or three good sized ones. Move toward your sweet banana peppers, and pick three or four of those. Your guests won’t know what they are biting into.
Step through to the waist-high tomato plants you’ve carefully caged or staked. Reach into the fragrant foliage and choose three or four of your just-ripened beauties. Roma tomatoes taste really good in this but you need some juicy tomatoes too.
On your way back to the house, laden with your goodies, stop at the edge of the plot, the place where the onion sets you planted way back in the spring grow, the ones with the biggest bulbs. Make sure you’re not pulling the Vidalias, or the whites. A nice strong onion, a yellow or even a red, will work great. Pull one, the bigger the better. If you still have some green salad onions, pull some of those to snip onto the salad for more color.
Pause for a moment and close your eyes. Appreciate the summer air, the warmth. Then head back to the air-conditioned kitchen.
How to make Mom’s Hot Pepper Salad: Printable
Peel and slice the cucumbers in 1/4 inch slices into a bowl, at least 4 cups of cucumber slices. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of salt and just cover them with very cold water. Soak the cucumbers for at least a hour.
Wash and dry the peppers. Leave them whole. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan. Place your peppers, whole, into the oil and fry them quickly, to just wilt them and soften the walls. If they get a stripe or two of sear, that’s OK, but they shouldn’t be all brown. Pull them out and lay them in a large salad bowl. Don’t drain them. Slice off the stems and slice lengthwise. Leave seeds in if you want. They add flavor. Reserve the oil you fried them in.
Slice onion into rings and separate. Toss the onions on top of the still-warm peppers. Slice tomatoes as you prefer them. Toss those on top of the onions.
Shake the liquid off of one of the cucumber slices and taste it. If it’s overly salty to you, pull the cucumber slices out by handfuls, squeeze lightly, and put in a colander and give them a rinse. Put those on top of the tomatoes. Wash the green onion and snip it into the salad.
Drizzle salad lightly with red or white wine vinegar and the remaining warm olive oil you used for frying. Add more fresh olive oil if necessary. A dash of balsamic, too, if you have it. But just a dash. Toss the vegetables together and taste. Season with salt as desired.
Cover the bowl tightly with Saran wrap and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight. During that time, it will develop a nice dressing. The juices of the tomatoes, cukes and onions will mingle with the vinegars and pepper-infused olive oil.
Toss it up a little before serving, grind some fresh pepper over the top, and serve. It’s great with grilled chicken, hamburgers, any kind of light summer meat dish. Some crusty bread would be great to soak up that delicious liquid the salad makes.
You can use all sweet banana peppers if you aren’t a capsaicin fan. But that takes some of the fun and flavor out of it. Use at least one hot pepper. Please. Green bell peppers, or ‘mangoes’ as we used to call them where I’m from, don’t really work well with this salad.
If you don’t have a garden, or it’s January, like it is now, it’s perfectly OK to grab all of the ingredients from the grocery store or in season at the farmer’s market.
All that’s required is that as you walk through the produce section, imagine you’re stepping into the soft earth between the rows of carefully-tended vegetables, earth rising up between your toes. Listen for the ambient hum of insects, and the occasional bird call. Feel the leaves brushing your ankles and legs, the prickly cucumber vines, and smell the pungent fragrance of the tomato plants as you reach for the fruit.
This salad truly was, and still is, one of my young summer afternoons on a plate.