Kitchen Curious: This recipe for smashed cucumber salad is a summer hit

Smashed cucumber salad. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Smashed cucumber salad. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

As the pandemic continues, many of us have pent-up energy that we need to release. Whacking a cucumber is one way to let loose. The bonus is a cooling, crunchy salad that’ll fill you up without weighing you down.

Smashing a cucumber is a Chinese culinary technique. By cracking open the skin, the flesh splits into jagged pieces whose rough surfaces absorb flavors and support a dressing better than when cut into smooth slices. Cukes for the Sichuan salad pai huang gua are given the smash treatment, then salted to release excess water and, finally, dressed with a vinaigrette of soy sauce, rice or black vinegar, garlic, sesame oil and, sometimes, dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns.

Thin-skinned, seedless cucumbers are preferred here. (I found Georgia-grown greenhouse cucumbers at Publix.) The skin breaks easily, and you don’t have to bother about removing the seeds after you’ve completed the whack job.

A mallet can be used in making a smashed cucumber salad. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
A mallet can be used in making a smashed cucumber salad. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Which device is right for smashing? Some chefs use a knife, placing the blade flat on top of the cucumber, then forcibly pressing down on the blade using the heel of the other hand (similar to smashing a garlic clove). A rolling pin also works well, and so do a meat tenderizer or a rubber or wooden mallet. Even a big can of tomato sauce turned on its side can be used. Whatever tool you choose, enjoy the stress relief, but don’t oversmash. You want to flatten and split open the cucumber, not turn it into mush.

English cucumbers often are sold wrapped in plastic. Keep the plastic on while you smash, so that cucumber innards don’t go flying everywhere. If your cukes are not sold that way, wrap each in plastic or put them in a zip-top bag before you bang on them.

Once you’ve tossed the cucumber chunks in salt and sugar, let them rest for 30 minutes. An hour is even better, to coax out water and impart more flavor into the vegetable.

When it’s time to mix everything together, shredded carrot will add some color. Cilantro adds bright freshness. After you add the vinaigrette, taste and tweak to your liking. I slicked one batch with a drizzle of chili oil and served it as a side with grilled meat and steamed rice. Eating it was almost as satisfying as smashing cucumbers.

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Eating this salad is almost as satisfying as smashing the cucumbers for it. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Eating this salad is almost as satisfying as smashing the cucumbers for it. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Smashed Cucumber Salad
  • 2 pounds thin-skinned cucumbers (such as English or Persian)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed to a near-paste
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar or black vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1 carrot, peeled and shredded (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • Chile oil (optional)
  • If the cucumbers are not sold wrapped in plastic, wrap them in plastic or place them in a zip-top bag. Place the cucumbers on a cutting board and pound them using a meat tenderizer, rubber mallet, rolling pin, the side of a jar of canned food or other object until the skin breaks open and the cucumbers are flattened. Do not oversmash. Remove and discard the plastic.
  • Trim and discard the ends of the cucumbers. Cut the cucumbers crosswise in half, then cut each half lengthwise. (If not using seedless cucumbers, cut off and discard the seeds, if desired.) Slice the halves lengthwise into spears, then rough-chop into 1- to 1½-inch bite-size pieces. Transfer to a colander placed over a bowl.
  • Sprinkle the salt and sugar over the cucumbers, tossing well to combine. Refrigerate the cucumbers, still in the colander, with the bowl underneath to catch juices, for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the dressing: Combine the crushed garlic, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Whisk well.
  • Remove the cucumbers from the refrigerator. Discard the liquid from the bowl. Wipe out the bowl and add the cucumbers. Add the shredded carrot, if using. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Add the toasted sesame seeds and toss again. Garnish with the cilantro, if desired. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. If desired, finish with a drizzle of chile oil. Serves four.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 85 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 2 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 5 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 584 milligrams sodium.
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