Cukes! Is there a better veggie for beating summer’s heat?
For a quick pickled version, try them in this Sichuan dish. It combines cudgeled cukes with tangy extras. It’s terrific with Chinese food, of course. But it works just as well with traditional cookout fare. So skip the coleslaw and serve this as a side with pulled pork or barbecued ribs. Or hamburgers and hot dogs.
Smashing good stuff.
There are numerous versions of this dish, although most recipes are pretty similar. Most flavor the cucumbers with garlic, vinegar, and chile oil or Sichuan peppers. Our version uses chili crisp, a spicy Asian chile-based sauce/condiment that gets its crunch from roasted onions.
Why smack or smash the cucumbers instead of cutting them up? Smacking breaks the cukes into jagged, irregular pieces. Their rough texture helps capture and absorb the flavor of the other ingredients.
This recipe yields 4 side-dish sized servings. It’s easy to double or triple.
Don’t count on leftovers. This dish doesn’t store well, in our opinion. So plan to serve it soon after you make it (though it can sit around for an hour or so before you dish it up).
- 1 English cucumber (see Notes for substitutions)
- ~½ teaspoon kosher salt (see Notes)
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced (optional; see Notes)
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar (or more to taste; see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce (we sometimes double this)
- 1 tablespoon chili crisp (or more to taste)
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil (optional; see Notes)
- Wash and dry the cucumber, then cut off the ends. Cut the cuke into halves or thirds so you can fit it into a zip-top food storage bag for smacking (bagging is not necessary, but it prevents a mess). Seal the bag. Then, using the flat of a heavy cleaver or the bottom of a frying pan, smack the cucumber until it’s broken up and somewhat smashed. You don’t need to pulverize it – just break it into pieces.
- Remove the smashed cucumber from the bag, then cut it into smaller pieces of about 2 inches. Place the cucumber pieces in a bowl, toss with salt, then let the cukes sit for 10 to 20 minutes. (The salt seasons the cucumber pieces and helps draw out some of their excess liquid.)
- Meanwhile, combine the chopped garlic (if using), rice vinegar, soy sauce, chili crisp, and sesame oil (if using) in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Taste, then add a bit more chili crisp if you want a spicier sauce.
- After the cucumber has rested for a few minutes (Step 2), drain off any water. Add the sauce from Step 3, then toss with the cucumber pieces.
- Plate and serve.
- Don’t want to bother with bagging the cukes in Step 1? Just place the cucumber pieces on the kitchen counter and whack away. But be prepared to clean up.
- You can skip the garlic if you prefer. Our version of the dish uses crunchy chili crisp, so you probably won’t miss it. Although we always include it because, well, garlic.
- BTW, chili crisp has become quite popular, so you can probably find it at a local specialty store or even some supermarkets. And it’s readily available online.
- We like the flavor of rice vinegar in this dish, especially since we add soy sauce, which provides depth and body. Many versions of this dish skip the soy sauce and call for using black vinegar (Chinkiang or Zhenjiang vinegar), which has a deeper flavor than rice vinegar. So feel free to substitute black vinegar for rice vinegar if you wish. Cider vinegar will work, too, although the flavor will be a bit different.
- We prefer to use English cukes when we make this dish. But you could use regular cucumbers (we’d peel and seed them first) or Japanese cucumbers.
- When we add chili crisp to the sauce (Step 3), we try to include some of its oil in addition to the solids. If the chili crisp is a bit on the dry side, we sometimes add an extra touch of sesame oil to the sauce.
- Some recipes for this dish add a pinch or two of sugar to the sauce (Step 3). We don’t find that necessary – the chili crisp adds a bit of sweetness.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we recommend. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“Yum, way to eat our veggies,” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs. “Though technically, cucumbers are fruits.”
“Well, Pliny the Elder called them vegetables, so that’s good enough for me,” I said.
“Of course, he died in a volcanic eruption,” said Mrs K R.
“He was trying to save people from Mount Vesuvius,” I said. “It was a Herculaneum effort.”
“Pumice me I won’t hear any more of these jokes,” said Mrs K R.
“Hey, volcanoes lava good pun!” I said.
“Just a reminder,” said Mrs K R. “You’re not the only one who can smash things around here.”
OK, guess that one cratered.
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