Cool as a Cucumber

Photography by Ron Boszko

When was the last time you ordered a salad or cold dish in a Chinese restaurant? In fact I bet you never have. You probably don’t even associate cold dishes with Chinese food. I can hardly blame you. The majority of Chinese restaurants in America do not even serve cold dishes although they are a staple of a Chinese meal in Asia.

There is a huge variety of cold dishes from all over China be they meat or vegetable. Many reflect local tastes and flavors. So as expected the cold dishes from Sichuan and Hunan, for example, would be laced with chili and are spicy hot. And drunken chicken originates from Shaoxing where rice wine is the local specialty.

But some dishes are ubiquitous. One of my favorites is the garlic cucumber salad. There are as many different ways to make cucumber salad, as there are cooks. Everyone has his or her own favorite recipe. I am going to show you one that is so simple that you would not believe it tastes so good!

I like to use cucumber varieties that have small seeds such as the Japanese hothouse cucumber or the small dark green variety commonly known as Persian cucumber. They are more flavorful and have tender skin. I also like to use this recipe as a base for more complex cucumber salad by incorporating other flavoring agents such as chili and bean paste.

As the last hot and humid days of summer linger, try this recipe and understand what it really means to stay “cool as a cucumber.”

  • Garlic Cucumber Salad (涼拌黃瓜)

    • Preparation time: 15 minutes
    • 8 ozs. Cucumber (1 large hothouse cucumber or 3 small Persian cucumbers)
    • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
    • Cut the cucumbers into quarters lengthwise and slice off the center to remove the seeds. For large hothouse cucumbers you may want to further cut the quarters into eights lengthwise. Then cut into two-inch long pieces. Add the salt and garlic then mix well. Refrigerate the cucumbers for about 30 minutes.
    • When ready to serve drain the salt extracted juice from the cucumber pieces and arrange on a plate. Be sure to retain the garlic. Pour the sesame oil over the cucumber and serve chilled.
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  1. Posted August 20, 2008 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Looks so refreshing – perfect with spicy food.

  2. Posted August 21, 2008 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Ooh, simple and delicious at the same time. Have to try this with the long English I picked up the other day. Thanks!

  3. Posted August 21, 2008 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    We missed you. Glad to have you back!

  4. Posted August 21, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m going downstairs to buy a cucumber now! I might add a tiny bit of vinegar, though.

  5. Posted August 21, 2008 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Michele, I use this recipe as a base for many of my cucumber salad variations. So go ahead and add other flavorings over it. I love spicing it up with Sichaun chili oil. Yum!

  6. Posted August 22, 2008 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Cold dishes are awesome…some folks may get turned off by cold chicken’s feet and such, but cucumber is a universal crowd pleaser. I love it laced with Sichuan peppercorn. And shredded lettuce stems prepared almost the same way as your cucumber salad, with tons of garlic, is also delicious.

  7. Norbert
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I just found your website and blog. Coming back home to Brazil after staying 3 years in Changsha, Hunan province, I already miss the food from there. The spicy hot chili dishes, the qiaoze varieties, the fish, the vegetable (the spicy fried eggplant, delish) and of course also the starters, peanuts, radish and cold cucumber with hoisin sauce.
    I am already a fan of your site. Unfortunately over here, and i guess in the us as well you cannot find restaurants serving the “real” (if there is any) chinese cuisine. I already started planting my own chilies …

  8. Debabrata Das
    Posted September 4, 2010 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    Ow! that was a lovely, how about adding a tobascco sauce.

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