Watery vegetables like cucumbers can be tricky to season — dressings slip right off and get watery as the vegetable sits. But by smashing the cucumbers, which is common in Chinese cooking, you end up with little nooks and crannies for seasonings to settle into. In China, you’ll see the cucumbers aggressively flavored with garlic or chili oil. Here, we turn to another heavy-handed way to season: a tarka.
In Indian cuisines, a tarka is a technique where whole and ground spices sizzle in hot oil; the spices bloom and the oil helps carry the spices’ flavor throughout whatever it touches next. A little bit of coconut oil takes on the earthiness of turmeric and travels into the nooks of your cukes. By sizzling dried coconut and peanuts in the oil, too, they toast and add a welcome crunch to the mix.
You can adjust the spices in your tarka based on what you have on hand (mustard seeds; whole or ground cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, or cumin; curry leaves; and fresh or dried chiles would all be great here). If you’re worried about watery cucumbers diluting that well-seasoned oil, fear not: By draining cucumbers in salt before they’re dressed, most of their water goes away, leaving you with just cucumber-y cucumbers.
Smashed Cucumbers with Turmeric, Coconut, and Peanuts
Persian or mini seedless cucumbers, or 1 small English hothouse cucumber (about 12 ounces total)
- 1 tablespoon
freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons
coconut or vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup
roasted, unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup
dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon
Freshly ground black pepper
Smash the cucumbers with the bottom of a heavy pan, then tear into one- or two-bite pieces. Place in a medium bowl, add the lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and toss to combine. Set aside for at least 5 minutes or up to an hour, then drain and transfer to your serving plate or bowl.
Heat 2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the peanuts and cook until they turn slightly darker brown, about 2 minutes. Add the coconut, turmeric, and a generous few grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring, until the coconut is lightly toasted, just 30 seconds. Immediately pour the peanut-coconut mixture on top of the cucumbers. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve right away.
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