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Quick-Pickled Cucumbers with Chili Bean Sauce

I’ve been focusing so much on heavy, rich winter dishes lately, it’s really time to switch gears and try something different. Something clean and fresh and light to clear the palate. So instead of a braise, why not a try a nice quick pickle to go with a simple dinner? Crunchy, salty, spicy, and satisfying, these quick pickled cucumbers add a nice kick to most any meal.

I grew up hating pickles, by which I meant those typically pickled cucumbers they give you with your sandwich at the deli. I still won’t eat them. Seems a bit strange, since I love both cucumbers and vinegar. But what I’ve slowly learned is that I do like other sorts of pickled fruits and vegetables – I started with a love of pickled ginger, and most recently I was utterly wowed by a jar of homemade pickled garlic seeds that a friend gave to me.

Quick pickles are a way of feeding that urge with a lighter touch, and without having to go to all the trouble of setting up the large pot of boiling water for home canning. It’s more like cucumber salad, really, which I also love. (In fact, I’d be hard pressed to tell you the difference between quick-pickled cucumbers and cucumber salad. Perhaps it has to do with the intensity of flavor? The way we categorize food in our minds is fascinating in itself.)

Around this time last year, we were making: Chicken and Rice, Curry Banana, Roots and Rhizomes Stew

Quick-Pickled Cucumbers with Chili Bean Sauce
(adapted from The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo)
For the quick-pickling
2 firm cucumbers (a little over 1 lb)
2 1/2 tsp salt
For the sauce
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 heaping tsp chili bean paste (I use Lee Kum Kee brand Chili Bean Sauce (Toban Djan))
2 tsp sesame oil
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/8 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns

Cut the ends off the cucumbers, then quarter then lengthwise. Cut out the seeds. Peel a line down the middle of each piece, the long way, for decoration. Then slice them into crescents about 1/8″ thick, or thinner if you prefer.

Stir the cucumber slices with the 2 1/2 tsp salt and leave them in a non-reactive bowl in the fridge to macerate for about an hour.

After the hour, rinse and drain the cucumber slices, and pat them dry. Stir the rest of the ingredients together, then stir the sauce in with the cucumber.

Serve cold, straight from the fridge.

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9 Responses to “Quick-Pickled Cucumbers with Chili Bean Sauce”

  1. Kitt says:

    Ooh, that looks like a yummy variation on the usual fridge pickles.

    I made Smitten Kitchen’s pickled carrots (photos here) and just loved them. Must try this, too. Thanks!

  2. novalis says:

    You could also do daikon radish similarly. Use twice as much radish, and don’t bother with the pre-salting step — just add the salt with everything else.

  3. Alanna says:

    I love-love-love refrigerator pickles!

  4. Laura says:

    I love cucumber salad so much!! And I love that you took the last photo with a different background!

    It really adds that extra something :)

  5. This is just my kind of dish — light and a bit tangy. Great photos, too.

  6. Tartelette says:

    I was just wondering what to do with the cucumbers I just got! Great recipe!

  7. kate says:

    i love ickled cucumber. Its on the table, in every restaurant, everytime when out eating out in china and i adore the version with chopped garlic. This looks gr8 too.

  8. Danielle says:

    Kitt – Those carrots sound good, too!

    Laura – Thanks! The background is actually the cover of the book whose recipe was the basis for these.

    Lydia, Tartelette – Thanks!

    kate – Oh yums. You make me want to go to China (well, more).

  9. Danielle P. says:

    I have also been craving pickled foods lately– in fact, they were all I wanted to eat yesterday as I was battling the flu. I went to a nearby Korean restaurant for lunch, and was treated to FIVE varieties of pickles with my lunch: kim chi, bean sprouts, yams, daikon, and cucumbers. It was fun to make each bite different from the last.

    I decided to include Tainong Emperor heading mustard in my garden this spring, specifically for kim chi-making at home!

    Love your blog! It’s a great presentation.

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February 2008
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