Pai Huang Gua (Chinese Smashed Cucumbers with Sesame oil)

Adapted from Julia Moskin’s “Chinese Smashed Cucumbers with Sesame Oil and Garlic

Cucumbers are a super popular treat in China, especially in the summer—you’ll see people munching on mini-cucumbers to help them keep cool  in the same way that Americans might walk around with an ice cream cone. While it’s far from summer right now, I made this dish as a light, refreshing counterpart to the flavor-bomb that is my Chicken Wings with Crab-Caramel Glaze. In this recipe, the cucumbers are crushed so that that they really soak up the sesame oil and rice vinegar dressing, making for a savory and revitalizing side dish or snack.

Ingredients:

2 large, seedless cucumbers, washed

1 tsp salt, plus more for to sprinkle the cucumbers

1 heaping tsp sugar, plus more to sprinkle the cucumbers

1 ½ TBSP rice wine vinegar

2 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp olive oil, plus more to tone down the flavor of the sesame oil if necessary

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp red pepper flakes

A pinch Sechuan pepper corns, roughly ground with a mortar and pestle

A handful cilantro, roughly chopped

Toasted white sesame seeds, to garnish

Instructions:

Cut the cucumbers into quarters lengthwise (creating four long strips per cucumber), then cut the strips into 4” sections. Lay a piece or two flat on a clean cutting board; place your knife on top of the cucumber (careful to tilt the blade slightly downward so as to prevent cutting yourself), place the palm of your spare hand flat on the knife, and lean into it with your entire body weight. Give the knife a few gentle smacks with the base of your palm if it’s resisting you. When you feel the cucumber give and hear it crunch under the pressure of the knife, it’s been properly crushed.

Once all the piece of cucumber have been crushed, sprinkle them with a generous amount of salt and sugar. Add the cucumber to a sieve set inside a bowl (the sieve should not touch the bottom of the bowl, though, since the idea here is to drain it of its liquid). Lay a large piece of plastic wrap over the cucumber, then place your mortar and pestle (or other heavy object) on top, to press the water out. Set aside to drain for 15 to 30 minutes.

While the cucumber is draining, mix the dressing. In a small bowl, add the salt, sugar, and rice wine vinegar and whisk until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Now whisk in the sesame oil, soy sauce, and olive oil. Set aside.

Once the cucumbers are thoroughly drained, remove the mortar and pestle and the plastic wrap. Shake them lightly in the sieve to drain out any lingering water. Pour out the collected cucumber water (save it to fancy-up water or a cocktail!) and put the cucumber in the bowl. Sprinkle the cucumber with garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and the Sechuan peppercorns. Stir, pour the dressing over, and stir again, coating the cucumber thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired; add more olive oil if you think the sesame flavor is too prominent.

Stir in the cilantro and serve, topped with the toasted sesame seeds.

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