Smacked Cucumber (Pai Huang Gua)

Smacked Cucumbers

Smacked Cucumbers

I first came across this recipe in Fuchsia Dunlop’s excellent book Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province (page 62 – see my bookshelf page for details – I highly recommend this book).  It sounded fun and I like cucumbers in just about anything so I decided to give it a go with two slightly worse-for-wear cucumbers that I had in the crisper.  Despite a rather messy first attempt, this has become a favourite and is especially good when paired with heavy or fatty foods.  Or just with food in general.  But, I digress…

The recipe has you smack the cucumbers with the flat of a cleaver in order to make them soak up the dressing.  The first time I tried this, I read the directions carefully and went SMACK!  This was followed pretty much instantaneously with SQUIRT! as the hapless cucumber ejected seeds and juice at high speed out of both ends at once – spraying both me and the wall opposite.  There was a moments silence as cucumber seeds dripped off my glasses and then I came down with such a fit of the giggles that I had to go and sit down. While I suspect that the condition of the cucumbers was responsible for the mess, these days, I forgo the smacking and just cut the cucumber into chunks instead.  You may wish to live life more of the edge than I.

Ms Dunlop gives two versions for this recipe – one with salted chillies and one with dried chilli flakes and hot oil.  I’ve sort of gone with a hybrid, and indeed – mine seems to be closer to the (probably non-Hunan) versions I’ve been finding in restaurants.  As I’m currently in the middle of a chilli glut, I’ve gone with fresh.  Use what you have handy.

You will need;

  • 1 large or 2 small cucumbers (about 375 grams).  The recipe doesn’t say to peel but I do as my local cucumbers tend to have thick and fairly horrible skins.
  • 2 or 3 chillies – fresh or dried cut as fine as possible (add more if you like the heat – my quantity will give you a mild zing)
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, very finely minced (use 2 or 3 teaspoons of paste if you like, but fresh gives a better flavour in my opinion)
  • 3 tablespoons clear rice vinegar
  • a teaspoon of sugar
  • a teaspoon of sesame oil

Smack the cucumber (if you’re feeling game) until it splinters and cracks open.  Then chop into bite-size pieces.  Skip the smacking if you’re a cowardly custard.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and leave to drain for 30 minutes.

Combine all the ingredients except the cucumber in a small bowl and stir until well combined.  Give the cucumber a quick squeeze, put into the dressing and toss to coat.

Serve alongside anything that needs a bit of tangy freshness.

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