Not so Cool Cucumbers

Every time I wander through the vegetable garden, cucumbers virtually trip me up. They are self-sown, growing wild between other more ordered plantings, scrambling over paths and up reo metal structures. Not having the heart to pull them all out when they were petite little specimens with delicate yellow flowers, I am now paying for that weakness. These cucumbers make the zucchini look polite. On average, I pick 10 a day and although I try to nab them while they are dainty and seedless, many reach adulthood. At the beginning of summer, when they’re cool and welcome, I grate them into garlicky tzaziki or serve them in various brines and vinegars, just like my grandmother Maggie used to do. I’ve also pickled a few jars with dill and am now wondering what comes next. Last night the cucs got the hot Sichuan treatment with this spicy dish by Fuchsia Dunlop. The best part of this dish is smacking the cucumber with a rolling pin- very therapeutic. It’s a wonderful side dish served alongside other dishes as part of a Chinese banquet. I attempted to eat this dish on its own as a little Chinese entrée, chopsticks in one hand, chilled rosé in the other. The dish needs friends, both culinary and human.

Smacked cucumber in garlicky sauce (Su an ni pai huang gua)

  • 1-2 cucumbers ( 300 gr )
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar ( black vinegar- no substitutes)
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp chilli oil – optional
  • A pinch or two of ground, roasted Sichuan pepper

Put the cucumber on a chopping board and smack it a few times with a rolling pin or the flat side of a cleaver, until some cracks appear on the surface. Then, holding your knife at an angle to the chopping board, slice the cucumber on the diagonal into small chunks.

In a bowl, mix the cucumber with the salt and leave to sit for 10 minutes to draw some of the water out of the cucumber. Stir together all the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Drain the cucumber, then pour over the sauce and serve right away while still crunchy.

Do you have any memorable and unusual cucumber recipes? Leave a cucumber recipe comment below. Francesca xx

Chinese Fish Fry. Everyone’s Friday Favourite.

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Have I mentioned before how much I love fish? These days, the onus is still on the purchaser and consumer of fish, both for home cooking or when ordering fish in restaurants, to ask a lot of questions. As fish lovers, we need to protect our endangered species and to eat more fish that are considered sustainable. Ms Sandra, aka the best cook in Melbourne, of Please Pass the Recipe, informed me of the sustainable seafood guide phone app- a handy thing to have on your phone when shopping for fish. http://www.sustainableseafood.org.au/pages/download-the-free-app.html. I also like this site, Good Fish, Bad Fish http://goodfishbadfish.com.au/ which is a very user-friendly site for home research within Australia.

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I love mussels and squid and fortunately, both these seafoods are highly sustainable, but not everyone fancies these two species, especially the little visitors and some of the grown ups too!  When it comes to a sustainable, sweet tasting fish, that everyone in the family adores, I can’t go past flathead. If prepared as part of a Chinese banquet, a little goes a long way.

Kids love this uncomplicated dish.
Kids love this uncomplicated dish.

For this recipe, choose a fish in your area that is boneless when filleted and not too strong in taste and of course, sustainable.  If buying fish whole, a better choice really, have the fishmonger fillet it, then ask for the head and carcass to make some excellent fish stock to freeze, then you have the basis for some wonderful fish risotto or seafood paella or seafood soup. A fish can go a long way.

This recipe comes from China the Beautiful Cookbook, 1986. I have only ever made this single recipe from the book. The recipe has done the rounds of my extended family and I hope it suits yours too. It uses commonly found pantry ingredients so, once you have the fish, you’re up and running.

Zhua Chao Yu – Grasping and Frying.  A fried fish dish from Beijing. ( Quantity for two if served with another dish, such as stir fried bok choi)

  • 315g white fresh fish fillets
  • 1 cup cornflour
  • oil, preferably peanut oil for frying.

Sauce

  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 slices ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
  • pinch salt/pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • extra spring onion for garnish.

NOTE- I often double the sauce ingredients for a richer, thicker coating.  The first two ingredients will be stir fired. Pre- mix the rest in a large cup to speed up the last stage of cooking.

Method

  1. Cut the fish into long thin strips. Mix the cornflour with enough cold water to make a paste. ( you could use tapioca flour or rice flour for the coating)
  2. Heat the oil in a wok to smoking point the reduce the heat. Dip the fish slices into the cornflour paste and deep fry 8 pieces at a time for around 2 minutes until golden and crisp  and cooked through.  Lift out and drain  on paper towel and keep warm while making sauce.
First stage of the dish- fry the fish in a light paste of cornstarch and water.
First stage of the dish- fry the fish in a light paste of cornstarch and water.

Making the Sauce.

Very finely chop the spring onion and ginger. Heat the wok and add a little of the used oil, then stir fry the onion- ginger mixture for about 45 seconds then add the rest of the pre-mixed sauce ingredients and heat through. when the sauce begins to thicken, slide in the fried fish and stir fry, turning the fish carefully until coated with all the sauce.

second stage of cooking
second stage of cooking

Serve at once, add more spring onion, as part of a banquet or with rice.

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For Rachael and Louise, who used to make this often.