Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shiitake Part 2: Hot Cucumber Salad

As the last post discussed, we returned from Tuesday farmer's market with a pint of fresh, local shiitake mushrooms and were determined to make them shine in simple dishes.

Two days later, a friend of ours showed up for dinner with a flat of fresh veg. from the farm where he's been living. He turns up occasionally with interesting selections of ingredients in search of a good home. Friends like this are good friends to have. This haul included a few pints of different tomato varieties, several colors of summer squash, a half-dozen cucumbers, some mismatched eggplants and a tiny, heart-sized watermelon. While compulsively munching little, orange, crack-laced tomatoes, we described a dish another recent dinner guest had shared with us that we found astonishing: hot cucumber salad. Something she had picked up in her travels in Western China, primarily Gansu province, the dish is hot in both senses of the word: served hot from the wok and liberally dosed with chili and garlic.

Up until then, it hadn't occurred to me to do a cooked dish composed primarily of cucumber; it seemed anathema to the vision of cucumber as cool, crisp crunch. Most of the hot cucumber I'd eaten involved throwing some into a fried rice in its very last moments on the stove, or including it al minuto in a brothy soup. This dish totally sold me on the idea, though. Remembering a languishing, slightly wilted half-head of greenleaf lettuce, we decided to add that, making it somewhat of a hot reimagining of a green salad. Also, it seemed a perfect foil to our plan for the second half of the fresh shiitakes, cooking them with Korean rice cake.

Korean rice cake (dduk) is a little like a giant, glutinous rice noodle (which, despite the name, is gluten-free), which we buy sliced on the bias into rounds. It has a thick, chewy texture and pairs well with all kinds of things. In fact, between that and gochujang, a thick, chili-based condiment that has been near indispensable in Korean cuisine since the introduction of chili in the 18th century, you have a kick-ass base for a stir fry which you can plug almost anything into. But that's a story for another day: gochujang would have overwhelmed the delicate little mushrooms.

Instead, we cooked the rice cake with a little bit of onion, oil and salt over high heat to get a little bit of toasty char flavor (contrary to what some may say, burnt is a flavor; you just probably don't want it to be the dominant flavor of your dish), took it out, cooked the mushroom similarly, and then tossed them together. And we saw that it was good. It's so simple, it's almost redundant to write a formal recipe to follow that.

    Hot Cucumber Salad

    vegan, gluten-free
    Serves 2-3
  • 2 med-large cucumbers, halved, seeded and bias-sliced med. thick
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 whole, dried red chilis, broken loosely
  • OR
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flake
  • 2 tsp. peanut or neutral oil
  • ½-1 tsp. salt

  • Optional:
  • 1 small head leafy lettuce, sliced into 1" strips
  • 1 Tblsp. rice vinegar
Prep vegetables. Heat wok over high heat. Swirl in oil. Add red pepper and about half the garlic. Tossing until the garlic smells toasty, about 10 seconds. Add cucumbers and toss. Sprinkle with about half the salt. and toss occasionally until cumbers start to get slightly soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add lettuce and vinegar, sprinkle with remaining salt and garlic. Toss to combine and cook until lettuce is somewhat wilted, 1-2 minutes.

    Shiitake & Rice Cake Stir Fry

    Vegan, gluten-free
    Serves 2, unless you've been sitting around eating too many little tomatoes, in which case it may serve 3
  • ~1 lb sliced rice cake (½ the bag)
  • ½ med. sweet white onion, med. dice
  • 4 tsp. peanut or neutral oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c. fresh shiitake, sliced
  • ½ c. baby bella/crimini mushrooms, sliced
Heat wok over high heat. Swirl in 2 tsp. of the oil and add half the onion. Toss and add the rice cake. Sprinkle with half the salt. Toss/stir occasonally, letting the rice cake get a few charry speckles and the onion get a little soft, about 5 minutes. Remove to serving bowl.

Swirl in the other 2 tsp, of oil, add mushrooms and remaining onion. Sprinkle with remaining salt. Stir/toss until mushrooms & onions start getting soft, 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat, add rice cake back to wok and toss until combined.

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