Szechuan Cucumber Pickles & Sesame Noodles

August 11th, 2010 / Comments 7

In 1980, our friend Tom went on a trip to China. Tom was an architect who loved adventure, and in those days, going to South America was exotic but a trip China was unimaginable. Tom had a wonderful time and, as an intrepid cook, he brought back exotic recipes and memories of extraordinary meals.

Asian pat c egbert Szechuan Cucumber Pickles & Sesame Noodles

Soon after his return, he invited us to dinner. When we arrived, he was emptying the wood shavings from his pencil sharpener into the wok. We watched as he added the contents of two tea bags to the wood shavings. He explained that he was going to make tea smoked chicken for dinner. He put a bamboo steamer filled with raw chicken over the tea and wood shavings, covered everything with aluminum foil, put it on the stove and turned on the heat. The tea and wood smoldered and I worried about the yellow paint from the pencils, but Tom explained that it wasn’t a problem and that the smoke imparted a wonderful flavor to the chicken.

duck c egbert Szechuan Cucumber Pickles & Sesame Noodles

While we waited for the chicken to smoke, we enjoyed a cucumber salad that Tom had learned to make in China, and he described the all-duck banquet in Beijing that marked the end of his trip. He described, in detail, dishes made from duck innards, head, wings and webs. We neglected the wok and concentrated on the salad that was spicy, loaded with garlic, Szechuan peppers and peanuts. Unfortunately, the bamboo steamer that held the chicken above the smoke caught fire and so did the chicken. Our dinner was a bit meager, steamed rice and cucumber salad, but we laughed a lot and I went home with a great recipe for Szechuan Chinese pickles. We call it Tom’s Chinese Cucumber Salad and the recipe is my souvenir from his trip.

On a steamy evening a couple of weeks ago, I made Szechuan Cucumber salad and sesame noodles for dinner and we drank a toast in memory of our friend Tom and his love of exotic food. Here’s how I made it:

Tom’s Chinese Cucumber Salad

I combined two cups of unpeeled, seeded cucumber, cut into pieces half an inch wide and two inches long with two tablespoons of kosher salt. I waited an hour before I rinsed, drained and dried the cucumber pieces.

I toasted one tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns in a dry skillet over medium heat until they were fragrant, about a minute, and ground them with a mortar and pestle. I combined them with one and a half a tablespoons of minced garlic, one tablespoon of hot bean paste, two teaspoons of sugar, one tablespoon of rice vinegar, one tablespoon of toasted sesame oil and half a teaspoon of chili paste in a medium serving bowl. I mixed the sauce with the cucumbers and put them in the refrigerator for half an hour. Just before serving, I topped the cucumbers with a generous handful of peanuts.

The exotic ingredients, Szechuan pepper, bean paste, toasted sesame oil and chili paste, are all available in the International Foods aisle of many grocery stores, in Asian grocery stores and online. A slightly less authentic, but still tasty salad, can be made without them.

Sesame noodles are best served at room temperature soon after the noodles and sauce have been combined. When I need to make this salad in advance, I prepare the pasta, sauce and asparagus and combine them just before serving.

Sesame Noodles with Grilled Asparagus

I cooked one pound of linguini in salted, boiling water until it was al dente and reserved a cup of the salty starchy pasta water when I drained pasta. I mixed the pasta with a tablespoon of oil and set it aside while I grilled the asparagus and made the sauce.

I cut off the bottom inch of the asparagus, and used a vegetable peeler to peel the bottom third of each stalk and brushed them with olive oil. It took five minutes, on a hot grill, for them to cook.

I put two cloves of garlic, one tablespoon red wine vinegar and one-tablespoon brown sugar into the work bowl of a small food processor. When the garlic was minced, I added a half-cup of chunky peanut butter and then processed the mixture for a minute before adding a quarter of a cup of soy sauce, six tablespoons of toasted sesame oil and three tablespoons of chili oil. When the sauce was well blended, I combined it with the noodles and stirred in four tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds. I used two tablespoons of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce a bit and topped the noodles with one diced red pepper, half a cup of fresh cilantro, and one sliced cucumber. I arranged the grilled asparagus on top, sprinkled an additional tablespoon each of toasted sesame seeds and black sesame seeds on to the salad and dinner was ready.>> Print This Post <<

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