Be cool as a cucumber with some smashing good salads

By on June 23, 2018

When the temperatures outside start rising, I start cooling off with light, bright, and refreshing salads, and nothing cools like a cucumber. A cool cucumber is the perfect foil for hot weather and hot food.

According to the latest food magazines and food emails I get, the newest food trend is smashed cucumbers.

Smashing cucumbers is not a new technique. It’s been standard in many parts of Asia for quite some time, but now, it’s just making its way to the States. For some reason, we’re slow that way.

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As for the cucumber to use here, I recommend the English cucumbers. Those are the long skinny ones wrapped in plastic.

Generally, English cukes are sweeter and milder than regular, American cukes. American cucumbers have waxy, thick, tough skins and lots of seeds. The English cucumbers have thinner skins, they don’t have a layer of wax on them, and they have fewer and smaller seeds, the seeds adding to the bitterness of common cucumbers. Also, I have found English cucumbers tend to last longer than the regular cucumbers.

Now, about that smashing. The smashing technique is decidedly Chinese. It cracks the skin, helps release the seeds, and splits the flesh. Smashing haphazardly exposes more surface area than slicing or chopping, augmenting the cucumber’s ability to absorb flavors and enhancing any dressing you might apply, unlike a sliced cucumber, with its smooth, impenetrable surfaces, which would shrug off the dressing.

With a smashed cucumber, you have all those crooks and nannies wide open, just waiting to accept whatever dressing you use and form a relationship with it.

Now, let’s go smash some cucumbers! First, trim the ends and cut your cucumber into thirds lengthwise. Place in a zip-lock bag and then take a rolling pin or skillet to ‘em. Smash away to break open the cucumbers, creating perfectly imperfect pieces. Pull them apart into irregular chunks.

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Place cucumber chunks in a strainer, lightly season with a sprinkling of salt (I use a teaspoon of kosher salt.), and let sit for 20 minutes. Salting is an important step. Salting draws out the liquid, concentrating the flavor and resulting in something like a quick pickle, giving you bright acidity and more crunch.

Drain cucumbers and discard liquid. No need to rinse the cucumber pieces; just shake them off.

Smashed cucumber salad
1 English cucumber, smashed, lightly salted, and drained
3/4 cup peanuts, toasted
1 serrano chili, minced
some shredded carrot

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For the dressing:
juice of 1 lime
juice and pulp of 1-inch cube of ginger*
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 TB brown sugar
1 TB rice vinegar
2 TB Tamari sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup neutral olive oil (I use Bertolli extra light for a neutral oil. It doesn’t compete with the other flavors going on.)

Mix first six ingredients until sugar dissolves. Whisk in oils. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Combine cucumber pieces, noodles, serrano chili, carrot, and peanuts.
Pour dressing over and toss to coat.

*Ginger Note: Whenever I buy ginger, I cut it into 1-inch cubes and freeze it. When I need ginger, I simply nuke a cube for about 25 seconds, put it in a garlic press, and I have ginger juice. One cannot easily get ginger juice from a fresh piece of ginger.

For a variation on this salad, use the basic dressing, omit the peanuts, and add 2 TB toasted sesame seeds, a pinch of crushed red pepper, ¼ cup sliced black olives, ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese, and one tablespoon each of fresh chopped mint, parsley, and basil.

Lastly, I offer you Pai Huang Gua, a cooling Szechuan dish typically served with hot, spicy food. I served these smashed cucumbers with soba noodles. Made from buckwheat, soba noodles are more substantial and have a stronger, nutty flavor. The traditional recipe calls for black vinegar, Chinkiang or Zhenjiang, a rice-based vinegar aged in earthenware pots which imparts a certain complexity to the dressing. Knowing that most home cooks don’t stock an Asian pantry, I substituted successfully with balsamic and rice vinegars.

Pai Huang Gua
1 English cucumber, smashed and salted, and drained, extracted liquid discarded
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp garlic, minced to a paste
1 tsp sugar
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Whisk vinegars and garlic together and let sit for about 15 minutes. This soak mellows the raw garlic a bit so it’s not as aggressive. Add in soy sauce, sesame oil and seeds, and sugar, whisking to dissolve sugar. Pour dressing over prepared cucumber pieces. Serve immediately over soba noodles.

Enjoy!

Comments

  • Doug

    Smashed Fukushima salad mentions noodles in methods. Missing in ingredients. Assume noodles are the tanned strips.

    Saturday, Jun 23 @ 3:01 pm
  • Rosie

    Yes, Doug. I used soba noodles. They’re in the instructions, not in the ingredients.

    Sunday, Jun 24 @ 9:21 am
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