So why smashing cucumbers instead of slicing or dicing them? The answer is simple: to create a great-tasting cucumber salad.
You see, smashing (with love, of course) brings about two unique advantages:
- It causes various degrees of bruising in the flesh of cucumbers, making it easier for them to absorb salad dressing.
- It creates irregular shapes and bites, providing a more interesting and varied texture for eating pleasure.
While I’ve tried many recipes for cucumber salad, I keep on coming back to this one, because the act of smashing elevates a simple and humble ingredient into something truly special.
Smashed cucumber salad is a popular home-style dish from Dongbei (东北), the Northeastern region of China. The cuisine of Dongbei has been gaining more recognition both inside and outside China in recent years. The cooking is rustic and hearty, a true expression of the land and the people who live there. The flavors are rich and bold, with liberal use of salt, vinegar and chiles. Wheat is consumed more than rice there, and the locals are masters of making great noodles and dumplings. Their penchant for eating raw garlic and scallions is unmatched anywhere else in the country.
To smash the cucumbers properly, you need to choose a knife with a broad flat side, such as a cleaver or chef’s knife. Smash to flatten the cucumbers, to the point that they crack without breaking apart into pieces. Resist the temptation to overdo it.
Although you can use any type of cucumber, my favorite for this recipe is Persian cucumber, also known as mini seedless cucumber. I love their thin skin, juicy and sweet flesh, as well as their ability to quickly absorb other flavors. To fully appreciate this cooling and refreshing salad, chill the cucumbers in advance.
I’m using raw garlic liberally to give this dish a true taste of Dongbei. Feel free to adjust the amount to your liking.
Once you’ve tried making this dish, I have no doubt that you’ll continue your smashing activities well into the fall.
Smashed cucumber salad (拍黄瓜)
Makes 2 servings
4 Persian cucumbers, about 12 oz (340 g), chilled in advance
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Trim the ends of the cucumbers. Working with one piece at a time, smash with the flat side of a cleaver or chef’s knife to flatten the cucumber, to the point that it cracks without breaking apart into pieces. Tilt your knife at 45° angle to the cutting board and cut each cucumber crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.
- In a large bowl, stir all the seasonings together until well mixed. Add the cucumber pieces and stir to coat them nicely with the dressing. Adjust seasoning as needed.
- Serve immediately.
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