Categorized | Salads

Getting a Little Territorial Over Tomato Cucumber Salad



A kid’s universe really unfolds when they start to see things in the world that they’d previously only known at home. Like the first time I’d heard people speaking Sicilian who weren’t my family or neighbors. Obviously, I knew we hadn’t invented the language. I understood that millions of immigrants brought it with them from Sicily. But still, hearing it outside my little bubble was unsettling. Even worse was hearing other variations—dialects from other regions that were similar enough for me to understand, but certainly not the Sicilian I knew. Something primal and territorial would kick in. Who are you, and what do you know about that world? I’d wonder.

I’ve moved on from such childish reactions, but I often surprise myself when I get “what do you mean this wasn’t invented in my house?” feelings. They still creep up, but now I’m more shocked at myself than I am at the world. Who am I kidding? It’s all been done before. And I say that with affection for all those who share traditions. It’s nice to remember that even though we don’t know one another, the same dishes cover our tables; the same values bind our families; and the same roots brought us to where we are.

I wasn’t expecting to feel that territorial response toward my Netflix queue. But there it was, smack in the middle of a No Reservations episode. There was Tony, hanging out in the fields of Sicily with some old caper farmers when they sat down to lunch. And right there, among the pasta and wine and bread was my parents’ tomato, onion, and cucumber salad. The salad they’d invented in our kitchen for Sunday lunches back in the ’80s. Hmph. My world. Shattered again. Oh, well.

In truth, I’m happy to see this masterpiece out and about. It deserves the credit. It reminds me of Sunday nights growing up, when we’d flip meals and have lunch at dinnertime since “Sunday dinner” was at noon. This salad was always on our Sunday night lunch table.

Maybe my parents and those caper farmers knew the same guy—the guy in Sicily who invented this. Or maybe it’s just one of those things that we all share without knowing.

Tomato Cucumber Salad
I didn’t have capers and olives when I made this recently, so they’re not in the picture. But if you can, add them! It wouldn’t be Sunday night lunch without them.

For the salad:
2 ripe tomatoes (vine tomatoes are great, but anything will do)
½ red or sweet white onion, sliced into thin moons
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced into half moons
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1 handful cracked green olives

For the dressing:
1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
dried oregano, to taste
salt, to taste

Throw it all together. Taste. Adjust any ingredients until you love it. And please don’t let that vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl go to waste! Something happens after the vegetables have been hanging out in it for a while. It would be a mortal sin if you didn’t soak it up with a hunk of crusty bread. A sin. What would your grandparents think? Please, don’t let us down. Get the bread. Make us proud.

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2 Responses to “Getting a Little Territorial Over Tomato Cucumber Salad”

  1. Christina says:

    I could live off of tomato/cucumber salad.

    Love your site – been reading for a few weeks now. Just curious, what part of Sicily is your family from. Mine is from Cefalu and Pizza Armarina – also ended up in Brooklyn, but not quite as recently as your family, so we've lost a lot of the cooking traditions.

  2. Maria says:

    Thanks, Christina! My family is from the Agrigento region. My mom is from a tiny town called Favara. My dad is from a neighboring town called Castrofilippo. Where in Brooklyn did your family land?

    From one book nerd to another, I love your blog!


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