Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spicy Cucumbers!

*Editors note: This post is humbly made with new reverence for food stylists everywhere. Photographing food so that it looks appetizing is much more difficult than it might appear in magazines and foodie blogs. My dear friend Ying (she's the pretty one in the white shirt and black dress) hastily snapped these pics before a recent dinner party exclaiming "for your blog!"

One of our favorite Chinese dishes are the spicy cucumbers they serve before you've even ordered at most restaurants here. Our Chinese friends often complain since these seemingly complimentary dishes are always added to the bill, but since we enjoy them and can't read the bill, we usually just cough it up. We were quite happy to discover an Americanized version of it in Nina Simmonds' China Express.

What follows isn't exactly as it appears in her book, I've simplified it a bit. I've taken to making double quantities of this dish so that we can snack on them all week. They really do get better and better as they soak in the vinegar, but we are usually too impatient for that. Really great on a hot summer night with a cold pale beer and salted peanuts.

2 lbs cucumbers (three or so if they are nice long ones)
1 tbsp salt (I use more since you rinse it all off in the end anyway)

Spicy Dressing
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp chile pepper flakes or 6 dried chile peppers cut lengthwise and seeded (at our favorite Szechwan restaurant here in Shenzhen, they use the fresh ones for extra fire!I usually just add it to taste.)
2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 c clear rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar (I find this is too much sugar compared to the savory version served here, so I usually substitute half one packet of Splenda which is plenty sweet)

Cut cucumbers lengthwise into 3" pieces and then quarters. Place in a bowl and dust with salt, tossing to coat. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature. Meanwhile, mix ingredients for the spicy dressing. Rinse salted cucumbers under cold running water and drain. Add spicy dressing, tossing to coat. Refrigerate for at least three hours or even overnight. The cucumbers will keep for one week becoming more flavorful with time.

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