By: Debra Chase
Baby its hot outside! This week’s early heatwave brings out the salad in most folks and there is no better place for fresh salad ingredients than the Farmer’s Market. Many will seek relief munching on crunchy chilled radishes, sweet tomatoes, or juicy peaches and plums but the coolest of them all are the cucumbers. There are many varieties to choose from and purchasing cucumbers at the Farmer’s market guarantees freshness, and there will not be any wax on the healthy skin.
For slicing use the smooth, thin skinned English, American garden, lemon or Persian varieties. For pickling use the bumpy fat Boston, an old heirloom dating back to 1880, as popular then as it is today. Size matters with the bumpy Boston; small to medium is best to avoid bitterness and large seeds.
The next best thing to a cold dip in the pond is pai huang gua, (拍黄瓜) a traditional Chinese salad of cucumber, garlic and rice vinegar. Literally translated, pai huang gua means, "garlic smacked cucumber". The trick to making this dish is in the smashing or smacking of the cucumber. A sliced cucumber will prevent the delicious dressings and vinaigrettes from sticking and absorbing into the flesh of the fruit. Smacking the cucumber creates jagged edges that allow the dressing or vinaigrette to penetrate the flesh, intensifying and fusing the flavors. This process also brings out more of the cucumbers cool flavor and makes it easier to remove the seeds.
Make this your own using fresh combinations of lime juice and yogurt, cumin and tahini or even just splashing on a favorite bottled dressing, allowing it to marinate a few minutes before serving. Avoid disappointment; don’t skip the smacking/smashing or salting step.
• 2 whole pickling cucumbers, washed, stems and ends removed
(The traditional recipe calls for a thin skinned Chinese or Armenian Cucumber but I have found that the pickling cucumber stays crisp longer ).
• 3 teaspoons Kosher salt
• 2 trays of ice cubes
• 3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
• 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
• 4 teaspoons sesame oil
• 1 teaspoon Nama Shoyu (Naturally brewed soy sauce).
• 1 teaspoon honey
Place the washed cucumber on a firm, flat, clean surface. A wooden cutting board on the counter with a damp towel underneath the board to prevent slippage works best. Slice the cucumber lengthwise end to end. Lay the flat end on the cutting board, cover it with a clean tea towel to prevent the seeds from flying around the kitchen, and whack it firmly but gently with the flat side of a heavy cleaver or other wide bladed knife. Repeat all down its length until it is completely smashed/cracked but not mushed. Slice the cucumber crosswise into 1-2 inch pieces and transfer to a colander set in a bowl. Toss with the salt, cover with the ice cubes and allow to chill and drain for about 30 minutes. Rinse lightly in cold water to remove the excess salt and transfer the cucumbers to a serving bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss to combine.
This cucumber salad is best served absolutely fresh alongside steamed brown rice and grilled fish with a cold Tsingtao beer, lending an authentic feel to the meal.