CUCUMBER SALAD (liangban huanggua)
It was a tradition in the Szechwanese restaurants of Taipei for the waiters to place several little plates of food on the table while you ordered your dinner. A few pickles or peanuts or a little cucumber salad stimulated the appetite and provided a delicious foretaste of the coming meal.
This cucumber salad is essentially the same as that served in Szechwanese restaurants. Mrs. Chiang usually serves it as a regular vegetable dish instead of as an hors d'oeuvre, but it can also be used as a salad in a Western-style meal. Since it is a cold dish, it can be prepared in advance. Mrs. Chiang recalls that her mother's cucumber salad was so spicy it actually numbed her mouth when she ate it. This version is not so hot and can be made without any peppery condiments at all.
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns (optional)
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes in oil (optional)
Peel the cucumbers. Cut each one in half crosswise and then again in half length- wise; scoop out the seedy pulp in the middle. Smash each piece of cucumber with the flat side of your cleaver ( this makes the cucumbers more absorbent) , then cut the cucumbers into strips about 2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide.
Put the strips in a bowl, sprinkle the salt over them, and mix thoroughly. Set aside for at least 10 minutes at room temperature.
Drain the cucumbers and squeeze out all the excess liquid with your hands.
Clean the scallions, then smash each one with the flat side of the cleaver. Cut the scallions, both green part and white, into 2-inch lengths and add them to the cucumbers.
Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of your cleaver, then peel. Chop the garlic coarsely, into pieces about the size of grains of uncooked rice. Add the garlic to the cucumbers, Now add the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, optional ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns, and optional hot pepper flakes in oil. (If you omit the two optional ingredients, the salad will be considerably less spicy and not at all hot. In that case, you may need to in- crease the amount of vinegar and sesame oil you use. But taste the cucumbers first before you do. )
Mix the salad well.
You can serve this salad immediately or you can refrigerate it for several hours and serve it chilled. In its less spicy form, it goes well with Western food.