This Tongue-Tingling Side Dish Steals the Show

Sichuan-style cucumbers are impossible to resist

Thanks for visiting The Bittman Project, a place where food is everything (or pretty close).


Today’s installment of The Minimalists completes (by total accident) the trifecta of what I have often called the three most important recipes on the planet: 1) stir-fry 2) rice and legumes 3) chopped salad. The first Minimalists video we did was Daniel’s stir-fried tofu and leeks, the second was Kayla’s red beans and rice, and today we’re doing my Sichuan-style cucumbers (essentially a chopped salad). So, there we go: 3-for-3.

These cucumbers — and the no-recipe brown rice that I make alongside — were originally meant to be side dishes for Daniel’s stir-fry, but since we couldn’t cook or eat them together due to Covid, we figured we’d space the videos out a bit (aka social distancing).

While I’m not against having a European-oriented salad with an Asian-oriented stir-fry, there are times — for me, it’s often — when only Sichuan-style cucumbers will do. It’s also very much worth noting that while this is usually considered a side dish, you can eat it for breakfast, a snack, even a light dinner.

We know, it's not cucumber season yet in most of the country. But to make this dish, try and seek out Persian cucumbers, Kirbys if you can find them, English or hot house cukes — these are all going to be better than the thick-skinned waxy ones at the supermarket. And the closer we get to late-spring/early-summer when crisp local cucumbers start popping up in many farmers markets, the better this dish will get.

The combination of chile, Sichuan peppercorns, and garlic simply kills what, growing up, I knew as “cucumber salad”—mayonnaise and/or sour cream and dill. The changeover is as if both me and cucumber salad grew up. For a high-impact, high-flavor salad that’s both refreshing and stimulating, there is nothing better. 

My recommendation is that you start with the level of seasoning in the recipe below and then taste, taste, taste: You might want more soy, chile, garlic, and so on. It’s unlikely you’ll want less. 

On the day that we shot this video I ate the cucumbers for dinner along with a scoop of brown rice (which, as you’ll see, you can absolutely make without measuring anything). It was light, super flavorful, easy, and totally great; I hope you’ll try it.

— Mark


Sichuan-Style Cucumbers + No-Recipe Brown Rice

Makes: 3 or 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes, largely unattended

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cucumbers

  • About 2 teaspoons kosher salt (if needed)

  • 1 teaspoon sugar (if needed)

  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

  • 1 small clove garlic

  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeno, or other hot chile, or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice or rice vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

  • Chopped cilantro for garnish, optional

Instructions

1. If the cucumbers are seedy (you’ll know as soon as you cut into one), cut them in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. (If they’re not seedy, don’t!) Chop the cucumbers; I like 1/2-inch or slightly bigger pieces. If the cucumbers are nice and crisp, put them in a bowl and proceed to step 2. If they’re a little mushy or watery, put them in a colander or strainer and sprinkle with the salt and sugar; toss a bit and let sit for 20 or 30 minutes. 

2. Grind the peppercorns in a spice grinder. (If you have a spice grinder that can handle it, add the garlic and chile, too.) Otherwise, mince the garlic and chile and combine with the peppercorns. 

3. If you salted the cucumbers, when they look darker and slightly shriveled, toss the colander a few times to remove as much liquid as possible that’s clinging to them. (You don’t have to rinse; if anything, you’ll wind up adding salt.) Put them in a bowl and add all the other ingredients except cilantro. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then garnish with cilantro and serve - room temperature is best.

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