In honor of what would have been his 80th birthday recently, I made Paul Prudhomme’s summer-perfect cucumber salad with lemon-dill dressing. Any time I make something of from the kitchen of this big-hearted, immensely talented man, I think back to the evening when I had the honor of meeting him at the opening of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans. A friend was touring the museum with me, and knew him. When we rounded a corner and I laid eyes on this icon serving up his gumbo and chatting with everyone with such warmth, I was thoroughly overwhelmed with emotion. My friend introduced us and I could hardly speak coherently. I told him, fighting back tears, how my dad and I made so many of his recipes with such passion, and he was just incredibly sweet to this dopey fan girl. When Hurricane Katrina devastated Nola, Paul Prudhomme was the first chef out on the street, cooking for long days on end, feeding first responders and the displaced. Far more than just a celebrity chef, he was a good and beloved person. Here’s my version of his salad — which is terrific with any well-seasoned, grilled fish, steak, pork chop, or chicken.
Lemon Dill Dressing
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon ground ancho chile
½ teaspoon garlic granules
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon whole caraway seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
3 cups peeled, seeded and thinly sliced cucumber
1 cup thinly sliced celery
½ cup sliced cherry tomatoes
¾ cup julienned red or yellow bell pepper
2 very thinly sliced radishes
⅛ cup very thinly sliced red onion
Make the dressing: Whisk together yogurt, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and lemon juice. In a bowl, combine seasonings and dried herbs. Using the back of a wooden spoon (or using a mortar and pestle), crush the seasonings and herbs as finely as possible. Add to the yogurt mixture; cover and chill while prepping the vegetables for salad.
Make salad: Toss the sliced vegetables together. Spoon dressing atop and serve.