Smashed cucumber salad
Texture in salad is key. For me, the point of these kinds of salads is to lift the rest of the dishes served in a set by providing freshness. And the key to freshness is that hydrating crunch.
On paper, this list of ingredients sounds at odds, but the missing link is the surface area provided by crushing the cucumber. If we simply slice the cucumber, the surface area doesn’t hold the dressing as well as it does when crushed. Those little jagged edges make the dressing pool, so the balance of the dressing is all the more important.
In a European method the dressing is used to simply coat the vegetables/leaves, but with this technique the idea is to hold as much dressing as possible on the surface in order to create balance with the watery cucumber. Alternating the crushing of the garlic provides these little moments of coming across raw garlic while eating the dish. This is an intentional move to up the pungency and lift the flavour of what is otherwise a relatively mundane vegetable.
Seasonally, cucumbers are coming to an end right now. And with the recent rains across Australia’s east coast they are likely to be at their most plump. I like to use the more gnarly variety of cucumber for this dish. Hence why I peel alternate strips of skin. If you are using a more generic cucumber, don’t peel the vegetable at all. The tannin in the skin can drastically change the end result with the older varieties, so please do experiment with varieties for your favourite outcome.
It seems a simple thing to smash a vegetable instead of cutting it for a salad. However, the difference between the two requires an adjustable response in your approach. This technique applies to most vegetables but with a similar consideration: these style of salads call for a more balanced dressing and a deft touch in order to make it a dish you will go back to instead of pushing to the side.
Smashed cucumber salad
2 cucumbers, or about 400g total
1 clove garlic, peeled
40g brown sugar
5g salt flakes
20ml light soy sauce
10g sesame seeds
2 sheets toasted nori seaweed
2g chilli powder
5g savoury yeast flakes
30ml fish sauce
20ml rice wine vinegar
10ml grapeseed oil
10ml sesame seed oil
Peel alternate strips of the cucumber so half the skin is retained. Cut the cucumber down the centre, then cut into triangular chunks.
Place flesh-side down on the cutting board and smash using the side of a knife, placing one hand on the flat side of the knife and hitting the back of that hand with the other. During this process smash the garlic clove in segments so the garlic mixes with the smashed cucumber.
Once done, scrape all of the smashed garlic and cucumber into a bowl and dress with the sugar, salt and soy sauce. Leave this mix for 30 minutes before draining and retaining the juice for future use in the dressing.
Roast the sesame seeds and the seaweed at 160ºC for 10 minutes, then blend in a spice grinder or blender until it becomes a fine powder. Add the chilli powder and the yeast flakes and pulse for a further moment until a powder forms. Set aside.
Divide the liquid that comes off the cucumber into two bowls and season one with the fish sauce, then the rice wine vinegar followed by the two oils. Check for flavour tweaking the levels of sugar, fish sauce and sesame oil if necessary and then adjust with the remaining liquid (this dressing should be mild enough to drink).
Cover the cucumber with this dressing in a bowl, then tip the entire contents into a flat bowl. It should be wet enough to drop some liquid but not swimming in the dressing.
Finish by sprinkling the sesame and seaweed seasoning over the top and serve with grilled meat or noodles, or both.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 3, 2021 as "Smashing success".
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