Cucumbers in themselves are boring. Their flesh is watery, their seeds cause gas, and if not ripe enough, their skin tastes like plastic. With this Chinese technique, the cucumbers are smashed with the back of a knife, not unlike how garlic is smashed. It removes the seeds, tenderizes the flesh, and cracks the skin, allowing for better absorption of flavors unlike when cucumber is sharply sliced.
While it was once a strictly Chinese dish, it is now creeping into other cultural cuisines, becoming a receptacle for all types of flavors, like lime, cumin and oregano, or yogurt and jalapeño honey. It seems like that is the beauty of the cucumber; it’s not boring, it’s diverse. One great place to find this salad in New York City is Northern Tiger, a farm-to-table, authentic Chinese stall at Hudson Eats.
If you’d rather make it yourself though, here is a simple recipe to follow.
8 Persian Cucumbers
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for marinating cucumbers
2 tsp granulated sugar, plus more for marinating cucumbers
1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce
2 garlic cloves
red pepper flakes, to taste
2 tsp toasted white sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
Wash cucumbers and pat dry. Cut the ends off and then cut long ways in half. Cut each piece in half lengthwise, like so:
On a cutting board or work surface, place pieces of cucumber cut side down. Lay the flat side of a chef’s knife on top of the cucumber and smash down lightly with the heel of your palm. The cucumber will split in two and the seeds will separate. Repeat the process on all pieces, smashing as much as needed to split the skin and tenderize the flesh.
Your cucumbers should look like this, below. You can see that the middle has split. Once they are all split, cut them down the middle and into bite-size pieces.
Place the bite-size pieces into a strainer over a bowl and toss with big pinch of salt and another big pinch of sugar. Place a plastic bag filled with ice on top to act as a weight. Let it drain for 15-30 minutes in the fridge. You can leave it in the fridge for up to four hours as well.
While this is happening, prepare the dressing. In a small bowl, combine the salt, sugar, and rice vinegar. Whisk until salt and sugar are dissolved, then add in sesame oil and soy sauce.
Mince two cloves of garlic and set aside.
When ready to serve, shake the strainer over the bowl to remove any excess water from the cucumbers. Transfer to a serving bowl. Add half the dressing, half the garlic, and red pepper flakes to taste and toss. Taste to see if anything else is needed. There should be enough dressing to coat but not drown the cucumbers. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately.