Cucumbers are the perfect summer food. Their cold and crunchy perfection requires very little embellishment. When I do want to jazz them up a little, I reach for this recipe for Szechuan Cucumbers. It adds a little heat and a little tang but keeps all the refreshment. I love making a double batch to have in the fridge when the munchies strike; they get a little softer with time but are no less delicious.
To really capture the characteristic flavors of Szechuan food, you need to seek out their peppercorns. Technically they aren’t peppercorns at all, they are dried seed husks. Their flavor is less hot than that of peppers or chilis, and is more complex. They also leave a lingering tingle on the tongue that is the essence of Szechuan cuisine.
If you are using whole ones, you can either grind them in a peppermill or crush them with a mortar and pestle.
Smash Them Up!
The technique I use to make Szechuan Cucumbers is also very typically Chinese. Smashing the cucumbers creates great texture and gives the cukes craggy little edges where the sauce can cling. I often smash them whole and then cut them into chunks for a rustic and authentic look. I did a more refined restaurant look this time cutting them into spears first- cucumbers suitable for company! And I remove the seeds too so they don’t water down the sauce too much. Again, these are all aesthetic choices, but unnecessary if you want to keep it simple.
You can use anything heavy to help with your smashing. Use a rolling pin, heavy cleaver, meat tenderizer…you get the idea. You want the cucumber to be broken apart into pieces, not squashed into soup. I also put the cucumbers into a large plastic bag first before smashing, so they don’t end up all over the kitchen.
Szechuan Cucumber Dressing
The dressing for these cucumbers is tangy from the rice vinegar, nutty from the sesame oil, zingy from the peppercorns, and with a little heat from the chilis. It’s also great on other green vegetables or a simple salad.
Once the vinegar base is done, then combine the minced ginger, Szechuan pepper, and either fresh chili or chili flakes into a small bowl, and set it near the stovetop. You’re going to briefly heat the sesame oil and you want the aromatics nearby so you can pour them quickly into the hot oil to release their flavor.
Let these cucumbers sit for an hour in the fridge and you will be treated to a deeply flavorful side dish. Pair it with Wild Mushroom Salad and Mango Lassi for an (almost) no cook meal. Or do what I do and eat a huge bowl as a summer meal. Please take a moment to rate and comment on the recipe below, we love hearing from you! And tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen.
- 1 european cucumber
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground szechuan pepper
- 1 fresh chili sliced thin or ½ teaspoon dried chile flakes
- Cut cucumbers in half crosswise and then into quarters lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon.
- Next put the cucumbers into a plastic bag (this prevents the splattering juice from getting all over you!)
- Use a mallet or the bottom of a heavy glass to bash the cucumbers.
- Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and then into 2 inch pieces crosswise.
- Toss cucumbers with the salt and let sit in a colander for 10 mins. And then set aside in a small bowl.
- While your cucumbers are sitting, combine the vinegar and sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
- Put the chili (flakes), ginger, and szechuan peppercorns together into a small bowl and set aside next to the stove.
- Heat the sesame oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes and then take the pan off the heat. Add the szechuan peppercorn mixture to the hot oil (It will bubble up furiously). Stir for 10 seconds with a spoon until the oil stops bubbling.
- Pour the oil over the cucumbers and toss to combine.
- Next pour the vinegar syrup over the cucumbers. Refrigerate for an hour and then serve. The cucumbers will soften the longer they sit.
*You can find szechuan peppercorns in an Asian market or online at most spice purveyors. I only had whole peppercorns so I used a pepper mill to grind them to a coarse powder. You can also use a mortar and pestle if necessary.
Keywords: szechuan peppercorns, szechuan cucumbers