Spicy Cucumbers - yum!

on Sunday, July 25, 2010

Want to try doing something a little different with the cucumbers you're getting in your CSA shares? Well, here's a recipe I found in Asian Cooking by Linda Doeser a couple of years ago that I love! The official recipe title is Pickled Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber, and I would say it's something like a cucumber kimchi, but I just refer to it as "spicy cucumbers" or "hot cucumbers" (that's spicy 'hot', not temperature 'hot'). With just a short list of ingredients and very little work you can have a spicy-yet-refreshing chilled cucumber dish to add a little zing to your life!

Here's the official list of ingredients, etc....

Serves 6-8

  • 1 slender cucumber, about 30 cm/12 in long
  • 5 ml/1 tsp salt
  • 10 ml/2 tsp castor sugar
  • 5 ml/1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 2.5 ml/1/2 tsp red chilli oil (optional)
  • few drops of sesame oil
Honestly? I've never measured a cucumber for a recipe. The shrink-wrapped "english" cucumbers in the grocery store are great for a recipe like this - thin/tender skins, minimal seeds, and never any bitterness. I use either those or whatever "slicing" cucumbers I have coming out of the garden. I wouldn't use the short stubby cukes intended for pickling.

A bottle of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce produced ...Image via Wikipedia

I typically use kosher salt because that's normally what we have out.

By "castor sugar" the recipe just means our standard granulated sugar (as opposed to sugar in the raw, powdered sugar, etc).

You can get a red chilli oil in a small jar like you can buy sesame oil (and believe me - it's bright red - you know it's chilli oil). I've found you can use any other asian chili paste/sauce you have on hand. Don't want to buy a bottle of the stuff if you don't think you'll use much? The next time you're at a Chinese restaurant, ask if you can get a little carry out container of chili oil or chili sauce - whatever they've got. It might look pasty/saucy and might even have some pepper seeds in it - that'll do the job! We have Sriracha sauce, which works really well in this.

Now - let's get started...

Here's a pretty rough looking cucumber I got from the garden. It's a little distorted from probably a dry spell in the weather or growing over a piece of the trellis. And the scarring on the cucumber's skin? Probably also from the weather or because the plants are dying off thanks to the cucumber beetles. If this is something you're worried about for appearances (or if the cucumber has a thick peel), just peel the cucumber. You can also partially peel a cucumber, in alternating stripes from end-to-end, just for visual appeal.

Halve the cucumber from end-to-end.

Scrape out the seeds from the length of the cucumber. You can see the exterior distortion of this cuke also affected the inside - still perfectly edible and tasty! I didn't do the tidiest job of scraping out the seeds with this one, but again, that doesn't affect the flavor.

Slice the cucumber - sometimes I slice down the length of each cucumber half, cutting it into halves, thirds or quarters, which makes a smaller cucumber piece, and sometimes I'll go with just slicing them as-is, making crescents as you see in the next picture. Just depends on how you feel.

Now salt the cucumber slices - take a couple pinches of salt (or the measured amount listed above), sprinkle it all over the slices, and sort of shake or stir to distribute the salt a bit. The salt will lightly flavor the cucumber, but it's intention here is actually to draw out excess moisture. Cucumbers are VERY watery - and they'll continue to give of water once they're cut. By taking this step, you enhance the cucumber flavor and reduce how watery they become later. I usually do this step in a colander or strainer over another bowl. I also will usually wash off the majority of the salt before the next step (yes, I know this sounds counter-intuitive - but the salt could be a bit intense otherwise - and you're not putting water back into the cucumber itself).

Oh, and you should let the cucumber sit with the salt on it for at least 20-30 minutes, up to an hour or more if you're patient enough. I don't know what'll happen if you leave it on more than an hour as I've always wanted to start eating the stuff too soon!

While waiting for the salt to do it's thing, gather your remaining ingredients...

...and stir 'em up!

Once you've let the cukes sit in the salt, and decided whether or not you want to rinse them, then you combine them with the sauce. The original recipe says to add the sesame oil just before serving. Yeah, right, whatever.

I promise you - this sounds like an odd combination, but if you like asian foods and/or spicy foods, give it a try. I'll sometimes double the liquid parts of the recipe - and when I made the batch you see here I used the full amount of spicy stuff and, wow, it's got serious kick! This'll sound really odd, but this is really good with steamed rice - like if you're having Chinese food (or, YUM, Korean food), make up a batch of this and try it with some rice - very interesting but tasty!

A note about the cookbook... I looked on Amazon to see if I could find a listing for the specific book in question, and had no luck. It's one of the many cookbooks I've bought at a steeply discounted price on Borders' sale tables over the years, and one thing I've noticed is that sometimes you'll find the same book in a drastically different "packaging" on those tables. Or you'll find a book that contains SOME of the recipes and photos you found in another book, with new stuff added. I don't normally find this happens with the books on the regular shelves in the bookstores - just the sale table stuff. I don't know if these books were sold in different countries, or were released by the same (or different) publishers with different covers/sizes...but it's definitely something to watch out for. Anyhow, this specific book seems to be out-of-print, but there's a number of asian cookbooks by Linda Doeser for sale if you're looking for more stuff to cook!
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