The two scant weeks of Beijing's Spring flew by in a wink and though we are barely into May, its 30 degrees outside and I think I can safely say it's summer in the 'Jing. Summer means stifling heat, sweaty days (and nights), and the start of my 3 month craving for only cold, refreshing foods. And right at the top of my list of favorite summertime foods is the marvelously simple yet ridiculously good pai huang gua (派黄瓜) or smashed cucumbers.
The Chinese love their cukes, and you'll see many people just eating them raw and whole, like a banana you don't even have to peel. You'll find this dish at most Chinese restaurants in town – the Beijing places serve it with tons of garlic but no spice, the Sichuan places use chili paste liberally, and Guizhou places throw in a healthy dose of black vinegar (see post on Da Gui's version). Any way you slice it, it's a fine start to any summer meal. (As a bonus, it on
ly takes about 3.5 minutes to prepare.)
The main secret to pai huang gua of course, is the “pai” – or smashed. Cucumbers are smooth, slippery creatures, and that makes sauce hard to cling to. Smashing the chunks up just slightly with the flat blade of your cleaver creates some nooks and crannies which can hold more vinegary/garlicky/chili goodness. Oh yeah, and it's mighty fun to smack something with your cleaver once in while.
2 cucumbers (the long, bumpy Chinese ones)
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
0.5 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp chili oil/paste
big pinch of salt
1. Slice the cucumbers crosswise.
2. Using the flat side of your knife, use the heel of your hand to smash the cucumber pieces until they bruise and break into smaller pieces (it only takes one or two hits).
3. Transfer them to a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Marinate for at least 15 minutes before serving.