Ma-La Cucumber Fans
Most unusual — cucumbers are cut into fans, softened with salt, then quickly seared with ginger, garlic, hot chili flakes, and a mixture of other Asian ingredients. Hot cucumber is a novelty for western diners; these are not only hot from cooking, but hot from the chili flakes. Quite a treat!
- Japanese or Kirby cucumbers - 1/2 pound, firm
- Kosher salt - 1 teaspoon
- Corn or peanut oil - 1-1/2 teaspoons
- Fresh Ginger - 1 teaspoon, thinly cut
- Fresh Garlic - 1-1/2 teaspoons, finely minced
- Red Chili Flakes - scant 1/4 teaspoon, dried
- Szechuan brown peppercorns - 1/4 teaspoon
- Soy Sauce - 1/2 teaspoon
- Japanese rice vinegar - 1 tablespoon, unseasoned
- Sugar - 1-1/2 tablespoons
- Sesame Oil - 1 teaspoon
Remove the tips from the cucumbers, then cut the cucumbers in 2-inch lengths. Grasp a piece of cucumber lengthwise between chopsticks held in a V-shape on a cutting board, then cut crosswise at 1/8-inch intervals into a fan; the chopsticks prevent the knife from cutting all the way down. Repeat with all cucumber sections. Toss the cucumbers with salt and set aside for 30 minutes to soften. Drain, rinse with cold water, then press gently between your palms to remove excess water.
Heat a wok or medium-size heavy skillet over medium heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add oil, swirl to glaze the bottom, then reduce the heat to low. When hot enough to sizzle a ginger thread, add the ginger, garlic, chili, and peppercorns. Toss until fragrant, about 10 seconds, then add a pinch more chili if you feel it is needed. Add the cucumber pieces, toss to combine, then add soy, vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil. Toss until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is hot. Taste and adjust with sugar if necessary to bring out the flavor of the chili. Scrape the mixture into a shallow bowl and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.
To serve: Remove most of the peppercorns. Divide among small individual plates, or serve with Tea and Cassia Bark-Smoked Chicken.