This refreshing cucumber salad is a Sichuan restaurant staple. It’s a crisp, refreshing appetizer as well as an effective palate cleanser between bites of fiery Mapo Tofu or Spicy Garlic Eggplant, in chili oil. Pounding the cucumber slices with a blunt object makes them release more water, thereby becoming firmer and absorbing more flavor. The salad is easy to prepare, but the result tastes more complex than you might expect. The crisp, slick cucumbers are at once garlicky, vinegary, savory, spicy, and sweet, with a noticeable scent of sesame. Consider them delicious instant pickles.
- Yield: 4 Servings
- 1 large cucumber or 2 medium cucumbers, unpeeled
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1. Cut the cucumbers into quarters lengthwise. Slice or scoop out the seedy middle sections, then cut each quarter in half again. Cut the halves into smaller pieces about 1½ inches long.
- 2. Crush the cucumber slices by pounding them once or twice with a kitchen mallet, the blunt edge of a cleaver, or the bottom of a coffee mug. The cucumber might spray some juice, so have paper towels handy.
- 3. In a large bowl, toss the cucumbers with salt and let sit for 20 minutes, allowing the salt to draw out excess moisture from the cucumbers.
- 4. Heat the peanut oil in a small skillet on medium-low heat. Add the garlic and gently cook until fragrant, 30 to 40 seconds, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Remove from the heat, transfer to a small bowl, and toss with the cider vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and red pepper flakes.
- 5. Drain the cucumbers and get rid of any remaining excess moisture by squeezing the cucumbers in the palms of your hands. Toss with the cider vinegar mixture.