Recipe of the week: Sichuan Cucumbers with Orange and Almonds
Michael Pollan has said that fermentation is the dividing line between cultures. A beloved ripe kimchi (or sauerkraut or relish) in one culture is the stinky stuff of nightmares in another.
Karen Solomon, author of “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It,” would be hard-pressed to name a fermented or otherwise preserved fruit or vegetable that she doesn’t like, and for her most recent book, “Asian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured, and Fermented Preserves” (Ten Speed Press, $19.99), she wanted to explore the full spectrum of pickled condiments from Korea, Japan, China, India and beyond.
That means everything from the pickled ginger you might nibble on at your favorite sushi restaurant to more exotic side dishes like atchara, the green papaya slaw from the Philippines that you might have only read about online.
For this deceptively cooling quick pickle, Solomon drew inspiration from Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco, which serves a peanut-topped Sichuan pickle so hot that it’ll numb your lips. In Solomon’s version, she uses crushed almonds and a mixture of spices that have been powdered in a grinder or coffee mill.
You could use an already prepared 5-spice or other Chinese spice blend, just don’t use the same coffee grinder that you use to process your coffee beans or else you’re in for a different kind of pick-me-up the next time you use it.
Sichuan Cucumbers with Orange and Almonds
1 lb. 5 oz. salad cucumbers
1 Tbsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 tsp. dried chile flakes
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns
15 raw unsalted almonds
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
Peel the cucumbers and trim and discard the ends. Slice them at an angle, 1/4-inch thick. Toss them in a colander with the salt and let them rest over a bowl or in the sink for 20 minutes. Once they give up their copious liquid, rinse them briefly and pat them as dry as possible with a clean kitchen towel, then transfer to a medium bowl.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet over high heat, toast the chile flakes and peppercorns for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant. Slide the spices into a small bowl to cool. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, toast the almonds, stirring once or twice, until light brown on both sides, about 3 minutes.
In a spice grinder or dedicated coffee mill, grind the spices to a fine powder, then set aside. Grind the almonds finely as well, pulsing them carefully so as not to turn them into nut butter. Add the almonds to the cucumbers, along with the sugar and orange juice. Toss very well to coat evenly. Spread the cucumbers in a shallow dish and sprinkle liberally with the spice powder. Eat immediately, or cover and refrigerate; these will keep for 3 days.
— From “Asian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured, and Fermented Preserves from Korea, Japan, China, India, and Beyond” by Karen Solomon (Ten Speed Press, $19.99)