One of the simple pleasures of dining in a Thai restaurant is the lovely delicate cucumber salad they serve as an appetizer. We like it so much we make a big batch and serve a big scoop as a side dish with barbecue. The delicate piquancy of the mild rice vinegar is a great counterpoint to the sweetness of a classic Kansas City sauce. And the best part is that, unlike so many other cucumber salads, there is no oil in this recipe!
And yes, that's a flower in the picture. It's an edible nasturtium from my wife's garden, and it has a nice peppery flavor. She also grows the Thai basil, cukes, peppers, and onions.
Yield. 4 nice size bowls
Preparation time. 15 minutes
Marinating time. After you assemble all the ingredients, try to marinate them for at least 30 minutes
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup cold water
2 medium cucumbers
2 medium scallions, pearl onions, or 1 small sweet onion
1 medium green jalapeño pepper
1 tablespoon fresh Thai basil, chopped
About the rice vinegar. Rice vinegar is the secret ingredient, and no other vinegar works as well. It is not hard to find. Most groceries carry it. Some are seasoned and some are not. Get the unseasoned if you can, but the seasoned works fine. By far the most popular brand is Nakano, and it is a good choice. I've bought other brands in Asian stores and regretted it.
About the basil. Thai basil often is a lovely purple and is slightly stronger in flavor than regular sweet basil. It also has notes of lemon and licorice. If you can't find Thai basil, you can use fresh regular sweet basil. It will taste just fine. But if you can find it, use the Thai stuff, it reall amps this dish up to 11.
Optional. You can add some red pepper flakes for color and more heat if you love the burn. If you add hot pepper, you might want to add a tablespoon or two of good olive oil to cut the heat. It also adds a bit of body. And while you're at it, add a few sprigs of chopped cilantro if you like it, and/or chopped unsalted peanuts on the top just before serving.
1) In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, salt, vinegar, and water together until the dry ingredients are dissolved.
2) Chop the scallions on an angle starting from the white bulb up the stem about two inches into the green stems. Squish them a bit to separate them into rings. Add to the bowl.
3) Cut the jalapeño in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds. If you don't want it too hot, cut out the white ribs. Like heat? Leave the ribs in there. Thinly slice the jalapeño and add to the bowl.
4) Peel the cucumbers and run the tines of a fork lightly along the exterior flesh so that it makes scratches in the surface. Scoring the cuke like this is not necessary, it just makes it look cool. Cut the cuke in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Cut the cuke into 1/8 inch slices. Add to the bowl. Add the basil. If you are using cilantro, add it now.
5) Stir the bowl, coating the ingredients with the dressing, cover and let it marinate in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes to 2 hours.
6) Serve chilled. If you plan to use chopped peanuts as a topping, add them at the last minute so they don't get soggy.