As any of my high school friends will tell you (especially Cara and Jordana), I have a freakish love of garnish. You know, the random lettuce cup in the corner of your spring roll plate that contains nothing but a slice of cucumber and a carrot shaved to look like a rose? Most people who claim membership to the clean plate club will devour these flourishes before their server has a chance to clear the dish. But I eat them before even touching the spring rolls.
I have a few textural issues to work out—mainly, my fruit apathy, which stems from a deep shivering hatred of anything mealy and mushy. Vegetables on the other hand, I’ve happily devoured since birth. I can’t get enough of anything crunchy and full of refreshing moisture. Raw radishes, snap peas, carrots, and, most of all, cucumbers. (Garnish anyone?)
I think I first fell in love with the texture of cucumbers in my mother’s friend Vivian’s garden. She plucked a small slicing cuke from the vine, and handed it to me. I wiped it on my shirt like an apple, and chowed down like someone had just given me the most delicious candy bar in the world.
Most of us quarter-lifers aren’t lucky enough to have a garden to pluck cucumbers from and eat them like apples. But still, summer is the season for cukes, and if you can’t indulge yourself on a whim, then you might as well pick up a couple from the farmers market with the intention of making a big cucumber salad like this one. The inspiration for this salad’s flavors (pan-Asian) come from the restaurants that give me the most generous portions of garnish. The vinegar mellows the flavor of the shallots, while the chiles finish off the whole cool, refreshing mouthful with a big punch of heat.
When I was in Thailand, they encouraged us to eat as much spicy food as possible to help us cool down. I’m not sure of the biological science behind this, but if you take the Thais’ word for it, and summer persists as it has, I suggest you eat a lot of spicy cucumber salad–and not just as garnish, but as the main event.
From my kitchen, kicking up my cucumber habit by adding a notch of heat, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Spicy Cucumber Salad with Ginger, Shallots, and Mint over Crispy Pan-Fried Flounder
Makes 4 side servings
If you can’t find Thai chiles, you can use jalapeno or just substitute 1 teaspoon siracha for the heat. If you have a food processor, you can mince the ginger, shallot, and chile in that along with the vinegar and oil.
3 slicing cucumbers (or 1 large English cucumber), peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced shallot (from 1 small shallot)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (from 1-inch knob ginger)
1 thai chile pepper, minced
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon thinly julienned mint leaves
Combine all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and toss to combine. Allow to sit for 20 minutes or so at room temperature. Taste for seasoning, and serve with fish, grilled meat, or on top of a bowl of rice.
This post is part of Food Network’s Summer Fest! Check out the other great cucumber dishes below.
Summer Fest is a season long, bi-weekly event where Food Network editors team up with blogs to share tips and recipes about what’s available at the market.
Pinch My Salt: Chilled Cucumber, Kefir and Avocado Soup
What’s Gaby Cooking: Cucumber-Basil Gimlet
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Radish-Cucumber Crostini
Big Girl Small Kitchen: Spicy Cucumber Salad with Shallot, Ginger and Mint
Grecian Kitchen: Summer Cucumber Salad
And Love It Too: Cucumber, Mint and Watermelon Salad
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Cucumbers Coolers with Agave Simple Syrup
Cooking With My Kid: Cucumber Limeade
FN Dish: Summer Fest: Cucumber Recipes
CIA Dropout: Relishing Cucumbers
Healthy Eats: Cool Cucumber Soup
Food for 7 Stages of Life: Cucumber Cherry Salsa
Cooking With Elise: Green Tea Cucumber Pops
Glory Foods: Cucumber and Shrimp Boat
Virtually Vegan Mama: Fire-Roasted Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho
Cooking Channel: Cucumbers Stuffed with Crab-Mango Salad
Recipe Girl: Bread and Butter Pickles
Taste With the Eyes: Spicy Pickled Cucumbers with Wakame and Garlic Blossoms
Virtually Homemade: Cold Thai Cucumber-Mint Soup
Add a Pinch: Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
The Cultural Dish: Ahi Tuna with Cucumber Sauce and Salad
Daily*Dishin: Cool n’ Zesty Cukes: 7 Minute Summer in a Jar
Daydreamer Desserts: Cubanita Margarita
Purple Cook: Cucumber Gazpacho with Indian Flavored Shrimp Relish
Indian Simmer: Cucumber at its Best with Chaat Masala
Big Apple Nosh: Quick and Easy Homemade Pickles
Sweet Life Bake: Agua de Pepino
The Sensitive Epicure: Tzatziki with Grilled Gluten-Free Pitas and Fresh Cucumbers and Peppers
Zaika Zabardast: Cucumber Gazpacho
A Way to Garden: Cucumber-Growing Q&A and the Best Pickles
Cooking with Books: Summer Fest: Cucumbers