The essence of good cooking

The longer I live, the more I relish simple things, which is why I adore Jacques Pépin’s latest cookbook, “Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul in the Kitchen.”

It makes book No. 25 for the internationally renowned French chef and TV celebrity who turned 80 in December, and represents his very favorite recipes, no matter if they originated in France or somewhere else. These are the dishes he serves to his family and closest friends. The book is also full of wisdom.

“Creation in the kitchen, for me, means constantly improving the familiar: tweaking and whittling my recipes over the years in a never-ending process of making them better and reducing complications until I arrive at their essential qualities,” Pepin writes in his introduction. “The result is really tasty food that I (and you) can make as quickly and easily as possible.”

Getting at a dish’s “essential qualities” — I like that!

Pepin’s following recipe is a great way to celebrate warmer weather and the growing season, and calls for only six simple ingredients:

CUCUMBER, ONION AND MINT SALAD

1 large English (seedless) cucumber (about 1 pound)

1 cup diced (1/2-inch) mild onion

1½ teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons shredded fresh mint leaves

½ cup sour cream

½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Peel the cucumber and cut it lengthwise in half. Using the tip of a teaspoon, scrape out the seeds. Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch dice. (You should have about 2½ cups.)

Combine the cucumber and diced onion in a bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and mix well. Let cure for 30 minutes.

Drain the cucumber mixture in a colander and pat dry with paper towels. Combine with the rest of the ingredients and serve.

Our assessment: High-water content vegetables like cucumber (96 percent water) and onion (about 90 percent water) benefit from curing with salt, which releases some of that liquid and enhances the vegetables’ flavor.

This salad will go into my permanent recipe collection.

From the book: “Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul in the Kitchen” by Jacques Pépin; 436 pages, $35. Published by Rux Martin, 2015.

What you get: This collection of 200 recipes covers everything from hors d’oeuvres to desserts, and represents some of the best of Pépin’s traditional French recipes as well as influences from all over the world.

In his own words: “I know that I will never make any recipe exactly the same way again. I will always be tinkering with the dish and thinking about new flavors and ingredients to substitute. Please feel free to do the same with these recipes. They will become all the more rewarding when they reflect your heart and soul.” — Jacques Pépin

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