smashed cucumber salad
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Cucumbers, the skinniest member of the gourd family of portly melons, squashes, pumpkins and marrows is technically not a vegetable but fruit. Yes, it’s one of those confusing ones that you can hardly make into milkshakes (smoothies these days defy my thesis) or crumble cake, like tomatoes.
It is very low profile: no boozy cucumber granitas like with watermelon; you can hardly carve a cuke for Halloween or cook a fondue in one, viz. squash. They are mainly made of water, a wonderful non-calorie foodstuff. Annoyingly, British supermarkets insist on selling mainly the least appetising variety, the greenhouse mutant, as large as it is flavourless. Does no one ever question where the little things in jars called gherkins come from? I guess everyone thinks that’s an exotic veg not related to cucumber. To think that the Empire was built on crustless cucumber sandwiches! No wonder it is no more.
I sometimes find the medium sized cukies in the local market and stock up. Those are tasty even raw, even without salt. Because the best thing you can do with cucumbers is to smother them with salt and/or vinegar. Yes, gherkins actually ARE cucumbers.
Tzatziki are shredded, salted, squeezed and yoghurted cucumbers. Saure Gurken get semi-cooked, semi-pickled in a salty solution and are the most fantastic companion to Bratwurst and beer. Gherkins – we’ve been there: vinegar, dill, mustard seeds and a slice of onion; raclette wouldn’t be as tasty without them. And these are Chinese smashed cukes, a popular snack sold there from street stalls and served as a side with spicier food.
Considering the method, it’s also a constructive way of letting off steam: smash‘em! Nuke the cukes?!
- 4 medium size or 2 large cucumbers
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 4 tsp caster sugar
- 1½ tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. grapeseed or extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed
- chili or red bell pepper flakes, to taste
- a few sprigs of fresh coriander
- 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Wash, top and tail the cucumbers. Cut them in half or quarters (large ones) crosswise, then each piece in half lengthwise.
Place the cucumber pieces cut side down on a chopping board, press the blade of a large knife flat on top the cucumber and smash down lightly with a heel of your hand. The skin will crack and the seeds will start to separate. Repeat until the whole piece is smashed. Break or slice diagonally into bite-size pieces, discarding the seeds.
Place the cucumber pieces in a strainer over a large bowl and toss with 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp sugar. Leave them to drain 15 – 30 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours. You can weigh them down with a pan or a couple of tins on a sheet of cling film, to speed up draining.
Make the dressing by stirring the remaining salt and sugar into the rice vinegar until dissolved. Add the soy sauce and the sesame oil.
Shake the cucumbers off the liquid or pat handfuls of them lightly with paper towels. In a serving bowl, toss them with the grapeseed or olive oil, add the garlic and half the dressing, tossing well. Add the chili or red pepper flakes depending how spicy you want it and more dressing so the cucumbers are well coated. Garnish with torn coriander and sesame seeds and serve.