Depending on where you live in the U.S. you may be nodding your head in agreement or be totally dismissive when I complain that right now in San Diego the heat and humidity is making me wilt. Yes, San Diego is probably much cooler than almost any other part of the U.S. but I’m not in any other part of the U.S. and while it’s not in the three-digit temperature category, it’s September, and temperatures beyond the coast are in the 90s and could very well go up further tomorrow or next week. In the meantime, those thick clouds that hang in the East tell me a monsoon is happening elsewhere and slipping humidity to us.

No one likes to cook in heat and humidity if they don’t have to. Or eat heavy food. That’s why I take advantage of late summer harvests of cucumbers and tomatoes to make this easy, very refreshing salad. It’s something you can make for clients or show clients how to make for themselves–or, hey, make it for your family to have something cool and simple to have at the ready once you’ve gotten out of your client’s kitchen.

For this salad I use either hothouse cucumbers (you know, the ones so delicate they’re wrapped in plastic) or Persian cucumbers, along with cherry tomatoes. I’m lucky because my garden is overflowing with Sweet 100s and other cherry tomatoes.

To make the salad I pull out my handy little Kyocera slicer, set it to the thickest opening, and get to work. It takes no time to slice the cukes. Then I slice the tomatoes in half in what, maybe two minutes? I clip some mojito mint from my garden and rinse and chop that up in less than 30 seconds. Then I quickly mix together a dressing using seasoned rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. I layer the cukes in a serving dish with a two-inch lip, toss the tomatoes over them, followed by the mint, then a few dashes of toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes. I slosh the dressing over the salad, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for about an hour so it can marinate.

The reward is a mouthful of fresh crisp veggies complemented by a mix of flavors and textures–sweet, salty, smoothness, crunch, and a pop of heat. It takes so little effort and the flavor rewards are so great (since all these vegetables are at their peak ripeness) it would be a shame to not make this part of your hot weather  repertoire.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad
Serves 8

2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced (if conventional cucumbers, peel the skin)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 teaspoon sea salt

Dressing
1 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon good quality soy sauce
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil

Layer the cucumbers in a bowl or flat serving dish with a lip at least an inch high to hold the dressing. Sprinkle the tomatoes over the cucumbers. Sprinkle the mint over the cucumbers and tomatoes. Sprinkle the sesame seeds, the red pepper flakes, and sea salt over the top. Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar, give it a good shake, and then pour over the salad. Cover and chill for an hour. The vegetables should absorb most of the dressing and the cucumbers will soften a little but still have a little crispness to them. If you want to add some protein to the salad cooked shrimp or beans (I love garbanzo beans with this) will work just fine.

What’s your summer/heat wave go-to salad for yourself or clients?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Photo from Reviews.com

Back in the ’90s, my parents lived in Boston and one of my favorite expeditions when visiting them was to a Newbury St. housewares store I loved. I no longer remember its name–and it probably isn’t there anymore–but back then they had an astounding array of reconditioned knives. I built my knife collection there and still have many of them, including a chef’s knife.

But back in San Diego at Great News!, a much-loved housewares store that finally did go out of business, I bought what immediately became my favorite, go-to, pack-when-I-evacuate-for-a-fire knife. It’s a Wusthof Dreizack Culinar santoku knife. I didn’t even think I needed a new knife until a friend who worked there put it in my hand. It fit perfectly. I have small hands and this knife made me feel for the first time that I had control.

You can talk about materials, craftsmanship, and price–all of which are important. But ultimately if a knife is going to be an extension of your hand, what makes a perfect chef’s knife is very personal.

“My mother-in-law bought me a Wusthof Ikon Santoku because she liked how it looked,” said personal chef and food blogger Carol Borchardt. ‘I’ve been in love with this knife ever since. It feels great in my hand because of the shape of the handle.”

For personal chef Suzy Dannette Hegglin-Brown, it was important to find a great knife guy and build a relationship with him. Hers, she said, is old school and knows what she likes.

“I like a well-balanced knife. I do not like a heavy knife,” she explained. “So my knife is a cross between a Global and a Henkel. The brand is an F. Dick. It fits my hand well. Not too heavy so I don’t get tired… Not so light that I feel like it’s cheap. It is an extension of my own hand. I love this knife. I have two of them. One for home and one for work.”

Photo from Suzy Dannette Heglin-Brown

San Diego chef Christian Eggert is a knife fanatic. He has been collecting them since he was a kid and said he has about 40. For Eggert, the quality of the steel is his first priority. “It equates to the knife’s ability to hold and edge and be resharpened.” However, he suggested that less experienced cooks should go with a Kyocera ceramic knife.

“They need to be careful with the brittleness of the ceramic as far as impact and cuts that require blade flexibility, but the warranty and inexpensive repair far outweighs the cost of a real knife,” Eggert said. “If you go for steel, though, I would recommend nothing less than a S30V or VG10 steel. These hold a true edge and can take a fair amount of abuse. When they want to get to a top layer steel R2 is world class along side D2 or other steels that add resilience and sharpen ability.”

Christian Eggert’s Mr. Itou knife

Then there’s grip. Linen micarta, Eggert said, is the best. “It gets grippy when wet and wears like iron. Ideally it should just about balance on your pointer finger. I like a little weight in my knife so I use a full tang custom (Mr. Itou). But again, even though they are very light, the Kyoceras are the knife I would recommend to most people for their ease of use, edge holding, and they are very light which reduces fatigue overall.”

Of course, a light knife isn’t for everyone and it can take time to get used to it if you’ve been a longtime user of heavier knives. Personal chef Jim Huff picked up an 8-inch Wusthof classic chef knife at Sur La Table because it felt “right” to him (and he got a nice discount as a student taking a class there). But he’s since picked up a Wusthof Pro Chef’s Knife that is much lighter. “I’m still adjusting to using it at home,” he said. “Up till now I’ve always preferred the heavier knives.”

Almost every quality food magazine invariably has stories dedicated to how to buy a good chef’s knife. Do a Google search and dig in. But you might also want to check out Reviews.com’s recent piece that lays out various features that aren’t subjective. They culled a list of 170 knives to 11 top performers. Then they put the knives through a series of tests–cutting herbs, carrots, butternut squash, and chicken. And they found that, just like the rest of us, the test wasn’t going to work as planned since right out of the factory, they would all perform well. Instead, it would be fairly subjective.

“Were we able to grip it comfortably? Was it too light or too heavy? Did the spine rub awkwardly against our index fingers as we chopped? These are the details that can make or break a cook’s relationship with their kitchen knife.”

But, even given the variety of testers, they were able to narrow the field down to some favorites, based on the user’s experience.

For many of us, of course, some of these choices come down to price. For Carolyn Tipton Wold, she went with what she was used to when she was training to become a personal chef and it wasn’t the most expensive. “I have a set of Wusthof and another well-known brand, but they couldn’t hold their edge when sharpened. Professional sharpeners wouldn’t sharpen them because the steel was too soft. I went back to my training knife and for $25, I haven’t been disappointed!”

Eggert noted that a Kyocera santoku will cost less than $50. Depending on the material, a Mr. Itou santoku will range from $400 to $600. More familiar names, like Kramers, Shuns, Henkels, and the like have a high price based on branding. But, Eggert said, there are far superior knives with a smaller price tag.

Serious Eats has a terrific guide by J. Kenji López-Alt. Here’s his list of things to consider (aside from personal preference). To my mind, these will help get you to personal preference:

  • Style: Do you prefer a slim-and-maneuverable modern gyutou-style hybrid knife, a rough-and-tough Western-style knife, or a more precise and delicate Japanese-style santoku?
  • Design: A good knife should be as fine-tuned as a race car with every aspect, from the curvature of the blade to the weight of the bolster to the shape of the handle, taken into consideration for optimal balance and performance.
  • Craftsmanship: Do the pieces all fit together tightly and firmly? Are the rivets going to fall out or is the blade going to separate from the handle? Is the finish on the handle smooth and pleasant to hold, and is the blade properly honed straight out of the box?
  • Materials: Is the steel hard or soft? Harder steels in Japanese and hybrid-style knives retain edges for a longer time but are tougher to sharpen. Softer steels are easier, but need to be honed and sharpened more frequently. Is the composite or wood in the handle durable and comfortable?

Once you hit all your priorities in terms of these four issues as well as price, then it comes down to how it feels in your hand and how it makes you feel about getting the tasks done with it. (And keep that feel-good condition. Don’t neglect sharpening and honing them!)

What chefs knife do you use and how did you come to choosing it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Last updated by at .