Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sichuan Cucumbers



It would appear that I have not posted for some time. Life and all that, you know.

I hadn't, as it happens, been cooking all that much recently, but V. is working abroad for most of the summer, so I have more opportunity to cook without worrying that the kitchen is too messy, and there is no dinner on the table unless I put it there.

I've also been trying (yet again) to reduce, so these days I've been making a lot of light but flavorful dishes that are easy to pack with my lunch or easy to make quickly for dinner and that also perk up what might otherwise be a somewhat meager meal.

I have always loved Sichuan pickles. I order them whenever they're available at dim sum, and I've occasionally made them in the past, with varying degrees of success. As they can be very low indeed in calories and fat, they seemed like the perfect thing to try this past weekend, so I looked up a recipe (in the Gourmet cookbook) and adapted it rather heavily to meet my needs.

I like to make my food last (while I'm eating it, that is, rather than for weeks on end in the refrigerator), and I don't mind recipes that are somewhat labor intensive, so the first change I made in this recipe was to pickle ribbons rather than wedges of cucumbers. It is probably folly to attempt pickling cucumber ribbons unless you have a good slicer of some sort (or you want lots of practice with your knife), but there is no reason at all why this same recipe wouldn't work with cucumber wedges, which is what one typically gets when one orders Sichuan pickled cucumbers at a Chinese restaurant. I like the ribbons because I can curl them on my fork as if I were a child eating spaghetti, so I eat them more slowly. Which is, I think, a good thing because they're very highly flavored.

The longer they sit in the refrigerator before you eat them, the more highly flavored they'll be, and the taste that will grow the most over time is the heat from the crushed red peppers.

You should, of course, feel free to adjust amounts and seasonings as you see fit. I think the next time I make them, for example, I might put in an extra tablespoon of rice vinegar. But then again I might not. I just ate a small dish of the pickles (they are prettier served in small dishes), and I thought the first ribbon might have been a bit underseasoned, but by the time I got to the last one, I was thinking that they were just about right.

Sichuan Cucumbers

2 English cucumbers
1.5 T. kosher salt
2 cloves garlic
A one-inch section of ginger
1 t. crushed red pepper flakes
2 T. dark sesame oil
2 T. seasoned rice vinegar
2 T. sugar


Take a thin slice off the bottom of each cucumber, so that it will stand without rolling. Cut the cucumbers in half crosswise, then cut each half in half lengthwise so that you end up with four quarters.

Exercising great caution, slice each quarter into thin ribbons on your slicer. You may find it easier if you occasionally give the cucumber a quarter-turn so that you're slicing along a different surface.


When you have all eight quarters sliced, toss the cucumber ribbons with the salt in a colander. Sit the colander in a bowl to drain for twenty minutes.



While the cucumbers are draining, prepare the seasoning. Put your slicer on its thinnest setting and slice the garlic cloves and the ginger. Add the crushed red pepper and reserve.


In a separate bowl (or a small skillet) heat the sesame oil for thirty seconds in the microwave (or over the stove until very fragrant). Add the ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes and let sit (off the heat if you used the stove).

When the salted cucumber ribbons have been sitting for twenty minutes, rinse them and drain them thoroughly. I use a salad spinner to do this, but you can certainly drain them in a colander. Keep in mind that the cucumbers are still somewhat salty, no matter how thoroughly you have rinsed and drained them, and they will continue to give off water as they sit. This is not a problem, but if they sit for too long while you're getting everything else ready, you may find that they need a bit more salt when you're ready to eat them.

Keep in mind that the cucumbers are still somewhat salty, no matter how thoroughly you have rinsed and drained them, and they will continue to give off water as they sit. This is not a problem, but if they sit for too long while you're getting everything else ready, you may find that they need a bit more salt when you're ready to eat them.

Put the oil mixture in a bowl large enough to hold the cucumber ribbons. Whisk the rice vinegar and then the sugar into the oil mixture until well combined. Then add the cucumber ribbons and toss until they are thoroughly coated.


Pack the seasoned cucumber ribbons into a container that can be inverted and that is not too much larger than the cucumbers. Refrigerate for at least four hours, the mixture upside down occasionally.


The ribbons do seem to shrink rather dramatically during the whole process, and when you're packing your ribbons into their container, you may feel like you've done much work for little reward, but a very small serving of these pickles goes a long way. You can serve them with any number of things (I'm thinking, for example, that they'd make a great addition to my Thanksgiving relish tray), but I prefer them most as a snack. A smaller amount in a small bowl packs a lot of flavor when I'm not especially hungry but I very much want something to eat.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, welcome back!

6:29 AM  
Anonymous lindy said...

Yay! Glad you are back. Hard to believe (except that great minds...), but I just made a very similar pickle with my farm box cukes- then ate them all at once, or nearly. But yours are more elaborate, and seem nicer. I'm still up to my ears in cukes, so I'm trying your version next.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Sophie said...

We would like to feature this recipe on our blog. Please email sophiekiblogger@gmail.com if interested. Thanks :)

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is not an authentic sichuan pickling style. No sichuan peppercorns and Chinese white wine are used. Also, the pickles are done in a special clay container with a bowl-like external lid and another innter lid. The clay container has an indentation around the mouth for water to be placed there. This shuts out air from entering the container during the fermentation process. The process can be from one day to 14 days, depending on how you want the pickles to taste. The pickles are then marinated with chilli oil and sesame oil before serving. Sometimes, cooked meat are added as well. This is just some inputs. Liqiu

12:06 AM  

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