8 articles Articles posted in vegetables

smashed cucumbers (pai huang gua 拍黄瓜)

Cucumber has become what I associate with summertime in Beijing. During these oppressively hot months, you’ll often see street vendors selling not popsicles (ok, you can find those too) but, yes, cucumbers — on a stick!

Last summer, when Becca visited and we went to the Summer Palace, we came across just these cucumber street vendors and couldn’t resist giving it a try. For a couple kuai you can have the cucumbers peeled and attached to a stick to make for easier munching as you stroll through the Long Corridor or climb up Longevity Hill.

It’s convenient that cucumbers are considered cooling in both American and Chinese cultures, so it’s not too hard to accept this as a good and healthy snack in hot weather. But on top of that, I should point out that the cucumbers in China are just plain delicious. None of the waxy skin, none of the watery, bland flavor. They’re of a variety that is long and skinny, with a somewhat prickly skin. But the most distinctive characteristic of these cucumbers is that they are wonderfully, satisfyingly crunchy. They beg to be taken up in your fist and munched on right on the spot. Those street vendors really have the right idea!

We are fortunate to get an organic CSA-type delivery here, and during the weeks of summer, the cucumbers have been really plentiful. I think at one point I had something like 10 cucumbers in my fridge at once. I tried to make cucumber soup, very cucumber-ful Greek salads, very cucumber-ful Vietnamese noodle bowls… But on many nights, the most efficient preparation of all has been this classic smashed cucumber dish, which you can find at just about any restaurant in Beijing.

Traditionally, this dish is made by actually smashing the cucumber with the side of a cleaver until the cucumber breaks into chunks. This not only helps release a lot of the cucumber juices but also gives the pieces nice ragged edges, all the better for holding the garlic vinegar dressing. After trying a couple different methods, I’ve decided that the easiest for me is actually to smash the cucumber with my heavy stone pestle. I’ve found that keeping the cucumber whole (rather than first cutting it) before you smash it makes for much easier smashing. That way, the cucumber skin is still firmly gripping the surface it’s sitting on, and you also have the benefit of the cucumber still containing most of its juices. After smashing, I roughly chop the cucumber into chunks.

Smashed Cucumbers (pai huang gua 拍黄瓜)
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

If Chinese cucumbers are not available, substitute with crunchy kirby cucumbers. English cucumbers would also work. For a simple, quick version, this dish can just be dressed with just some chopped garlic and a splash of Chinese black vinegar.

2 Chinese cucumbers or 4-5 kirby cucumbers
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt

1. Using the side of a cleaver, the handle of a large knife, or a large pestle, smash the whole cucumbers until they begin to crack open and release juices. Chop the cucumbers roughly into bite-size chunks.

2. Toss the cucumber with the remaining ingredients in a bowl until well dressed. Let the cucumbers marinate for 10 minutes to soak in some of the sauce. If desired, chill before serving.

Korean Blanched Scallion Sashimi or Green Onion Bundles (Paganghoe 파강회)

Today’s Korean recipe comes from my friend Terry, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Grenada. Terry is such an awesome cook and continues to amaze me to no ends with her culinary skills, her resourcefulness, and her generous heart. She is a wonderwoman who makes everything from scratch, does it ever so efficiently, and makes everything cute and pretty to boot. She can also work wonders with a scrub and sponge. I lent her one of my old, stained pots once, and when she returned it to me, I could barely recognize it. It was shiny and looked as good as the day I bought it. Thank you, Terry!

One of the things that we can readily find on the island is scallions. Now, I’m usually not a huge fan of scallions. In fact, I didn’t really eat scallions for most of my life and would go out of my way to pick them out of my soups and dishes (my dad used to yell at me for this when I was a kid, but he has since given up and makes a scallion-less version of everything for me now :D). These days, I still order dishes without scallions when I can, but I’ve learned to appreciate the flavor and complexity that they add to certain dishes (salmon poke, green scallion pancakes).

When Terry mentioned that she’d be making blanched scallions for us, I have to admit that I was wary of the prospect. But I have complete faith in Terry’s sense of taste. And if she says it’s going to be good, I believe it. And you should too.

I can honestly say that I think I ate more scallions that day than I’ve eaten in my entire lifetime.

Here’s Terry’s recipe for blanched scallion sashimi and a special dipping sauce to go with it too!

Blanched Scallion Sashimi or Green Onion Bundles (Paganghoe 파강회)
serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish

5 bunches scallions
5 quarts water
3 Tbsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. sugar
sesame seeds

1. Soak the scallions in water and baking soda for 5 minutes to cleanse them. If you can find a tub/sink large enough to hold the entire length of your scallions, soak the entire thing. If not, just soak the heads (the dirtiest part).

2. Remove from water and trim off all scallion heads.

3. Rinse scallions.

4. Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil.

5. Submerge the scallions in the water and blanch for about a minute.

6. Remove scallions from pot and rinse under cold water.

7. Squeeze out excess water.

8. Mix soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar in with the scallions.

9. Picking up one scallion head at a time, starting at the base, fold the scallion over onto itself at about the 2-inch mark. Continue to fold the scallion onto itself 3 or 4 more times.

10. Now pinching the folded scallion part with one hand, start wrapping the end of the scallion around the folded section. Tuck the loose end of the scallion under the wrap.

It should look about like this when done.

11. Repeat with all scallions. Arrange on a plate, and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Now for the special sauce that goes along with this yummy appetizer…


1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. red pepper paste (gochujang)
1 1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sesame seeds

1. Mix all the ingredients together and stir until well combined. Serve with scallion sashimi.


Food Matchmaking: Carrot Loves Lemon

My favorite memory of this food pairing comes from my last visit to France (Julie is currently visiting Paris right now and is having her share of culinary adventures, I’m sure. :) Salut ma soeur!). Dean’s aunt (who lives in Paris) made a simple carrot salad with some French citrus mayo, and it was perfect. The sweet, earthiness of the carrots matched so well with the tangy, tart lemon. Try making your own version of the salad here or try the two combining the two in a soup!

Photos from here and here.

Food Matchmaking: Sweet Potato Loves Coconut Oil

Do you cook with coconut oil?

My cousin recently got me into coconut oil as a health food. It’s full of good saturated fat (like avocado) and helps lower bad cholesterol. Plus, it has a lovely tropical fragrance. My favorite thing to make with it is baked sweet potatoes. I like to make sweet potato fries served alongside panko-crusted cod for a healthier version of fish ‘n’ chips. And, like my cousin, I’ve started adding a bit of coconut oil to baby food (E loves it!) — fat helps babies absorb the food’s nutrients better, and with coconut oil they also get the extra health benefits and lovely aroma.

Try substituting coconut oil for butter in desserts (use 25% less than what’s called for, since it has less water content). You can also apply it to your skin and hair as a moisturizer. Check out this NYT article for more information and ideas on how to use coconut oil. Make sure to get the unprocessed, extra virgin (and preferably organic) kind, since the partially hydrogenated kind contains trans fats, as the article points out.

Images from here and here.