My kids love cucumbers. My little cucumber-eating champ of a 21-month old daughter, who still only has barely ten teeth (why?!), always impresses me with the alarming amount of cuke she manages to put away at each sitting. Although it’s super easy to just thinly slice up a cucumber and feed it to them, I am always keen on introducing exciting textures and tastes to their budding palates. Using the vegetable peeler to create long ribbons of cucumber not only makes it more delicate and tender for the little ones, but the salad also looks elegant enough to serve as a starter or side at a dinner party. The children had this crisp salad for lunch today with fluffy Japanese rice and a simple steamed egg custard, but it would be equally great as a refreshing accompaniment to a fillet of spicy grilled fish.
To prepare the cucumbers, it is important (for me) to first remove the bitterness caused by the cucurbitacins in the fruit. My maternal grandmother, who cared for me when I was little, taught me from Day One, that the way to do this is to cut about an inch off the stem end of the cucumber, and rub the cut ends in a circular fashion for about a minute, until a layer of white foam appears. Discard the small cucumber stub and slice off a little of the cucumber where the white foam lies. I don’t know if this resonates as an old wives’ tale, but I certainly ain’t one to argue with my grandmother on matters of the kitchen (or actually, any matter at all). So I have obediently done as I’m told for two decades, and will surely be passing on to my kids, this trick from their great-grandmother, when they come of age.
Crunchy cucumber and sesame salad
A riff on Wolfgang Puck’s recipe
2 medium cucumbers (about 500g), washed thoroughly
½ tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp white sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp white sesame seeds
Prepare the cucumbers using the method suggested above. Then, using a vegetable peeler, shave ribbons of cucumber length-wise (keep the skin on for extra colour and crunch) into a large bowl. Rotate the cucumber and avoid the seeds as you peel. Discard the seeds at the end.
Sprinkle the sea salt all over the cucumber. Work the salt into the cucumber with your hands, scrunching them up a little as you go along. Let the cucumber and salt mixture sit in the fridge for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds on a dry pan, for a few minutes, until slightly golden. Set them aside to cool. These burn quickly, so be sure to keep a close eye on them.
After 10 minutes, squeeze out any water that has drained out of the cucumber. Add all the other ingredients, except the sesame seeds, and toss thoroughly.
Leave the salad in the fridge until it is time to eat. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over and serve.