Friday, June 25, 2010

Cue the Cukes

I can't believe it's been a couple of months. We got sick after the week of birthdays and other doctors' and school district appointments that couldn't wait -- I was burned out. Then came the Disney vacation, then the recovery from vacation and getting kids who are home from school to occupy themselves with something other than a glowing, mind-melting TV screen.

But I promise I'll do better and offer the recipes soon for the cakes (they are sort of Frankenrecipes, so I have to pull them together to present them in a readable way).

Meanwhile, we've spent the past couple of weeks eating more healthful foods -- grilled chicken breast (satay style), small low-fat sirloin burgers and brats. Well, the brats aren't that healthful. But our overall diet is.

But my favorite dishes lately have been not the meats, but the sides -- peanut noodles, cellophane noodles, little quick carrot pickles and cucumber salad.

The cucumber salad is truly amazing. The cool freshness of the cukes accented by the zesty Southeast Asian-inspired dressing doesn't just taste great to me. My three children, all LOVE it, including one very picky nearly 3 year old who used to be fed via tube. I had made a batch after breakfast one day, and he came trotting into the kitchen for a bite, then back to his toys in the family room, then back for a bite ... His twin sister wouldn't leave my side and kept taking one after another. Within half an hour, the bowl was empty and I had to rethink our veggies for that night's dinner.

Tangy Cucumber Salad 2.0

1 large seedless cucumber or 4 mini seedless cucumbers (about 14 to 16 ounces)

finely grated zest of half lime
juice from half lime (I get about 1/8 cup lime juice)
1 rounded tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons peanut oil (or canola oil)
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sriracha (hot chili) sauce

garnish (to sprinkle over salad when serving): 1 to 2 tablespoons toasted chopped peanuts or black sesame seeds or chiffonaded thai basil

1. Slice small cucumbers into coins or ovals (about 1/4 inch thick) or cut large cucumber in half lengthwise, then across into 1/4 inch thick half-moon pieces. Place slices in a colander over a bowl to drain 1/2 hour to 2 hours.

2. Combine remaining ingredients for dressing. Just before serving, toss cucumber with some of the dressing to coat slices. Don't dump all of the dressing at once. It can be a little strong for some people, and you can always add more if you want.

3. Sprinkle with preferred garnish, and eat immediately.

This salad does not keep well after the dressing is combined with the cucumbers. If preparing ahead of time, keep dressing and sliced cucumber in separate containers.

This recipe's success REQUIRES the fish sauce and some sort of chili sauce. I like Three Crabs brand fish sauce and Huy Fong sriracha, which I get at my local Asian grocer, but some supermarkets in my area do sell some sort of fish sauce and chili sauce in the Asian section of the international foods aisle. Those are the ingredients that MAKE the dressing. And put down the bottled lime juice -- step away from the little green plastic bottle.

This dish was inspired by another cucumber salad I used to make, which itself is an adaptation of a Sweet, Tart, and Spicy Shrimp and Cucumber Salad from Epicurious. It's a tad simpler, and uses less fish sauce for those who are intimidated by its rich flavor. But I recommend going for the version with more flavor, unless you REALLY are sensitive to the taste of fish sauce. Three Crabs brand is already pretty mild.

Cucumber Salad 1.0

1 large seedless cucumber or 4 mini seedless cucumbers (about 14 to 16 ounces)

finely grated zest of half lime
juice from half lime
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil (or canola oil)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

 DIRECTIONS -- Same as for the other cucumber salad, minus the extra ingredients.


Leema Thomas said...

Hi Cynthia.
The cucumber salad recipe looks great. Would it still taste OK if I leave out the brown sugar?

Cyn said...

Thanks. You could give it a try without the sugar, although I'm not sure if it would seem more sour? But then again, I never met a recipe I didn't feel like adjusting. I'm already thinking I should probably double the sriracha ...
If you experiment with it, let me know how it turns out.

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