Pickled cucumber (黄瓜皮)

19Jun08

These cucumber strips might look too plain and simple to blog about. But in this miniseries on Chinese starters, you really can’t miss out on this one. It is actually the starter I order immediately with no second thoughts when see it on the menu – and in China that is almost always the case.

There are of course some varieties, not only in taste but the way the cucumber is cut. You have the banquet-style strips which you can pile several stories high, woodlog cabin-shape. Then you have the home-style cucumber slices or chunks, which shape is really up to you. And you have the cucumber peels which I had last time in China, challenging your chopstick skills by their curly nature, but very refreshing nevertheless. These are on the photo.

The cucumber is usually flavored with sugar and white vinegar, and some salt, sesame oil or ginger for extra flavour. In Sichuan they fry some dry chiles in hot oil and put in the cucumber chunks in the wok for only some seconds, enough to get flavors from the spiced oil.

For this recipe you need:
2 small cucumbers
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons white vinegar (I use Japanese mizkan brand)
salt / grated ginger / sesame oil
optional: dry hot chiles

Cut the cucumber. Don’t peel, every version has peel for extra flavor and crunch. Style 1, restaurant style: take off both ends, cut cucumber into 3 or 4 chunks, cut them lengthwise, scoop out seeds, flatten them and cut into long, even strips.
Style 2: home-style. Slice in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds (spoon works fine), then cut into batons (half moon shape) or strips (but not as pretty as restaurant style.)
Style 3: skin-peels style. Cut the top off the cucumber, then hold it upright and slice off a 5cm wide piece of peel with flesh on. Cut all the way round as if peeling a long apple skin. Continue with next layer of peel and cucumber. They will curl up, this is half the fun!

Whatever style you use: add 2 teaspoons of salt, mix the cucumber, and let sit for about 20 minutes. Pour off drained juices and marinate the cucumber pieces in a mixture of sugar and vinegar, a little bit of grated ginger (half a teaspoon) and half a teaspoon of sesame oil. Mix well and put in fridge to cool.

When you would like the cucumbers to be more spicy: fry chilli pepper carefully in a couple of tablespoons of oil, then add the slices of cucumber to the wok, fry for 15 seconds, then put on a plate. Or just fry the spices and pour over the hot oil, then mix.

Enjoy this crunchy starter with other starters or just a glass of cold Qingdao or Yanjing beer.

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