In my youth, I waged a long-standing Cold War against all things vegetable that often left my mother in tears.
Since then, I’ve come to embrace the leafy greens of this world with such an enthusiasm that I’ll rarely let us sit down for dinner without some veggies on the table. Now if you’ll allow me to step on my soap box for a moment, I’m going to say something about vegetables: I don’t think they should necessarily be treated like a health food.
Now, I’m not talking about dipping veggies in batter and frying the nutrients out of them-those aren’t vegetables, those are just a delicious vehicle for grease. I’m also not talking about coating broccoli in cheese, that’s just a vehicle for Velveeta. I’m talking about being a little more liberal with the oil and spices, a little more experimental, a little more spicy. I’m talking about not being afraid to coax out some flavor with a little bit of salt, sugar or even (gasp) bacon.
Veggies are healthy, not just because they are low in calories/fat/carbs/etc. They are healthy for other reasons too. They give you all sorts of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants and other crazy stuff. And at the end of the day, even if you throw some oil or salt into the veggie mix, they are still going to be healthier than a burger with a side of fries. (No, fries are not vegetables, they are vehicles for ketchup)
(Stepping off of soap box now, meekly stowing away among my blog widgets)
Anyways, I’m a huge fan of the way the Chinese do vegetables, or at least the way my mother-in-law cooks them. Had I met my mother-in-law ten years ago, you would bet I’d have been chowing down on the leafy greens long before now. She rarely cooks without bacon grease or sesame oil but you know what? I just don’t care. Its delicious, usually flash-cooked in a hot pan, tossed with some hot oil and maybe a touch of ginger, garlic, or hot pepper. Yum.
She’s also the one who turned me on to these pickles. I didn’t even know I liked pickles until I tried hers. WOW. Now I’m a lifer. There are usually at least a few cucumbers stowed away in our fridge on any given day, ready for me to slice up and turn into crunchy bits of goodness. As I’ve said before, when I don’t know what veggie to put on the table at dinner time, I’ll reach for a few cucumbers and make this recipe:
2-4 cucumbers (the smaller the better my mother-in-law says)
10-15 slices of garlic
2 Tablespoons hot red pepper oil
1 Tablespoon hot bean paste
2 teaspoons sugar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil (my absolutely favorite condiment in the world after vinegar)
1 Tablespoon brown vinegar (I like to use a little more because I heart vinegar big time)
2 Tablespoons Salt
Ma La peppercorns (ground) to taste or other peppercorns if you like it spicy.
Cut up your cucumbers however you like, removing most of the skin. Chris prefers rounds, I prefer quartering them into longer rectangles, he won out this round.
Next, coat your cucumbers in the 2 tablespoons of salt and let them sit. The longer they sit in salt, the higher the crunch factor (and the salty factor) A good half hour in salt will give you some satisfactory crunch but supposedly a few hours is better. We don’t know, we aren’t ever patient enough to find out.
Then, Slice up your garlic, erm…you might want to use fresher garlic than we did, oops
(yes that’s a giant 100 year old cleaver that my husband used to slice the garlic, he never ceases to amaze me)
Mix together your sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, red pepper oil, garlic and hot bean paste. The sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil are the key components to this recipe so if you don’t have all of the other ingredients just laying around like we do, you can make ’em spicy with whatever you have. We like to add some of those numbing little ma-la peppercorns crushed and sprinkled into the mix.
That’s a mighty pretty pickle sauce.
Next, rinse the salt off of your cucumber pieces, a colander works best for this. Dump them all back in a bowl with the sauce you made above and toss to coat
And that’s it, you are done making the best veggies ever. Maybe not the healthiest veggies ever, but they a darn good way to eat a cucumber…or 3.