When it comes cucumbers it seems like sliced is the way to go. Peeled maybe, but sliced certainly. I mean what other choice is there? Well, it might surprise you to know that in Beijing, people buy whole chilled cucumbers from street vendors and munch them with a spicy dipping sauce as a sort of salad on the go. But smashing cucumbers is popular too. Known as pai huang gua the smashed cucumber salad is considered the perfect foil for hot weather and is a standard technique in many parts of Asia. The smashing process cracks the skin, making the seeds easy to dispose of and splits the flesh into appealingly craggy pieces.
Once smashed, the cucumbers are roughly torn by hand into bite-sized pieces then sprinkled with salt and briefly set aside. The salting process softens the skin, firms the flesh, and brightens the peel. It’s important to choose fresh, firm-fleshed cucumbers. Persian or English hothouse cucumbers are ideal thanks to their thin skin and less seedy nature.
Smashed Cucumber Salad
Garlic, chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, and sesame oil. Bold flavors are typical of this salad. The simplest versions are smashed and tossed with nothing more than chili oil, but you’ll also find more elaborate combinations like this version I adapted from Melissa Clark.
The smashing of the cucumbers is fun too. Simply lay them on a chopping board and smack them a few times with the flat blade of a cleaver, the bottom of a small skillet or (my personal choice) a rolling pin. At first, you’ll feel a little silly abusing your produce this way, but I promise this smashed cucumber salad technique will grow on you. So much so that I feel I need to remind you not to become so enthusiastic that you smash your cucumbers into smithereens. GREG