Mother Nature always knows when to transition into a new season. And before it all happens, she reminds us to take the time to savor our favorite things from the departing season and anticipate the bounty of the next.
In South Texas, #summer2016 will go down as unusually rainy and cool. At the end of August, normally the scorching heat would be blazing down on the city so an egg would easily fry on the sidewalk. The kind of Texas summer heat when triple digit temperatures force you to remain indoors.
Instead, it has been almost pleasant. A farmer reported they have absorbed 20 inches of rain in the last month, and while the city dwellers may love that (hello, green grass), it’s not always so welcome by the farmers. But these resilient growers are used to Mother Nature’s mood swings and harvest what they can until the ground dries up to plant new crops.
Seriously, I have been dreaming about Chinese smashed cucumbers for more than a week now waiting for the right meal to pair them with. Because Asian flavors are not our culinary strong suit (we eat out for that), I originally made this recipe (after reading about it in The New York Times) and paired it with something bizarre–something that didn’t go–but, oh well. I was desperate to make this recipe and plopped it on the table when we ate.
In spite of the non-complementary flavor profiles, David and I ate with abandon and almost polished off the entire dish. The next morning, I finished off the leftover cukes for breakfast–cukes on top of arugula and a crispy fried egg on the side.
Crisp, cold and smashed so that garlic and vinegar penetrates the flesh, these Asian cucumbers will make a cucumber lover out of the most difficult, picky eaters. The exceptionally balanced dressing combines earthy sesame oil, zesty rice vinegar and savory tamari topped with a generous shake of red chile flakes, cilantro and toasted sesame seeds for crunch, these essential flavors make this an indispensable dish in China.
Whether you pair this dish with Asian flavors, serve it as a side dish with lunch or dinner or if the leftovers happen to become part of your new favorite breakfast routine, this is a fabulously flavorful, healthy and super easy dish that lets you squeeze the last bit of flavor out of #summer2016, which was a smashing one.
Chinese Smashed Cucumbers
- About 2 pounds thin-skinned cucumbers such as English, Persian or baby pickling variety (8-10 mini, 4 medium or 2 large)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt plus a big pinch for the cucumbers
- 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce, but tamari is the gluten-free option
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed or evoo
- 2 large garlic cloves minced
- A few shakes of red pepper flakes to taste
- Handful cilantro leaves either whole or chopped
- 2 teaspoons toasted white sesame seeds for garnish
Rinse cucumbers and pat dry. Cut each pickle in half lengthwise. On a work surface, place half a cucumber (or several) cut-side down.
As you would to open a clove of garlic, lay a large knife blade flat on top of the cucumber and smash down lightly with your other hand.
The skin will open, the flesh will break down and the seeds will separate. Break or slice diagonally into bite-sized pieces, leaving the seeds behind if they break apart. Repeat with all of the cucumbers.
Place smashed cucumbers in a strainer and toss with a big pinch of salt. Place a plastic bag filled with ice on top of the cucumbers--this will serve as a weight--and then place the strainer in the sink or over a bowl. Let drain 15-30 minutes in the sink or in the refrigerator until ready to serve, up to 4 hours.
In a small bowl, combine the salt and rice vinegar and stir until the salt dissolves. Stir in the sesame oil and tamari and blend well.
When ready to serve, shake cucumber well to drain off any remaining liquid and transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with grapeseed or evoo and toss. Add half of the dressing, garlic and a shake of the red pepper flakes to taste and toss well. Keep adding dressing until the cucumbers are well coated but not swimming. Taste and add more pepper flakes if needed. Garnish with cilantro, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Refrigerate any leftovers and serve for breakfast with a side of mixed greens and a crispy fried egg.