Pickled Cucumber Salad (suan la huang gua)
Pickled vegetables are a mainstay of Chinese cuisine, from North to South; this dish would constitute what might be called a “fresh” pickle, and is distinct from the many hundreds of varieties that are cured indefinitely in earthen jars. It is bright and healthy, and is an excellent compliment to any heavier main dish. Small pickling cucumbers are best to use for suan la huang gua—unskinned, they will remain crisp as the acidic ingredients work on the vegetable. Having seen this appetizer countless times when traveling in Sichuan province, I can’t imagine beginning a Sichuan meal without it.
1 lb small pickling cucumbersWash the cucumbers thoroughly and cut off the round ends. Leaving on the skins, slice each cucumber in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut the cucumbers in quarters lengthwise, then eighths, forming wedges. Cut the wedges in half, crosswise, and place in a bowl with a few dashes of salt. Allow to marinate for 1 or 2 hours, tossing occasionally, to extract some of the water. Drain thoroughly and towel to dry.
2 or 3 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin crosswise
3 small dried red chilis, or 1 fresh red chili, or both, finely shredded
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorn, roasted and ground
1 Tab rice vinegar
1 Tab rock sugar (cane sugar will do)
1 Tab peanut Oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tab finely shredded ginger
When cucumbers are ready stir fry garlic slices in a wok with a tablespoon of peanut oil until slightly browned; transfer the garlic slices and any of the oil in which it was cooked to a mixing bowl. Add cucumbers, Sichuan peppercorn, vinegar, sugar, peanut and sesame oil and ginger. Marinate for an hour or a day or two (This fresh pickle will lose some of its crisp texture after a day or two).