Smashed Cucumber Salad with Hot Vinegar

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Cue the global warming think pieces because I can’t remember a summer this consistently hot in my lifetime. It’s only August and I’m sweltering. I’ve been countering the heat with lots of seasonal like watermelon, tomatoes, and of course, cucumbers.

This Southeast Asian-inspired salad is one of my new favorite cucumber salads. Adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe, it takes only minutes to prepare. The crunchy peanuts and tangy vinaigrette add a flavorful punch to this cooling side dish.

Smashed cucumber salad with hot vinegar

Ingredients:

5 Persian cucumbers
Salt
1 serrano chile, sliced
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup roasted peanuts, for garnish

1. Gently smash cucumbers with a rolling pin just to break open. Tear into irregular 2-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl; season lightly with salt. Let sit at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, whisk chile, garlic, vinegar, fish sauce, and sugar in another bowl.

3. Drain cucumbers, discarding any liquid they have released. Add to bowl with dressing and toss several times to coat. Top with peanuts and serve.

Korean Cucumber Salad

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This dish is one of my favorite banchans to eat. You know, the glorious array of little side dishes that come to your table when you go out for Korean food? Everyone has their favorite banchan. Mine are fish cake, cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, and this ubiquitous cucumber salad.

It’s easy to make at home and it’s perfect on a hot summer day as a cooling side. Make this salad ahead of time and chill it in the fridge for later. I even eat it alone as a snack. Pass the banchan, please.

Korean cucumber banchan

Ingredients:

3 Persian cucumbers (or 1 English cucumber)
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 green onion, sliced
1/4 cup onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

1. Cut the cucumber lengthwise in half. Cut diagonally into thin slices.

2. Put the cucumbers in a medium bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and mix well. Transfer to a serving dish and serve room temperature or chilled.

Smacked Cucumber in Garlicy Sauce

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There’s this cucumber appetizer at Z&Y Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown that I love: piquant, garlicy, and salty, it’s perfect in its simplicity yet a challenge to recreate. Until now. This is as close as I’m going to get to achieving this cooling cucumber that’s perfect alongside a meal of spicy dishes.

Resist the urge to make smacked jokes: the smacking refers to whacking the cucumber to help it absorb the flavors of the sauce. Try not to crush it into a million pieces!

Smacked cucumber in garlicy sauce

Ingredients:

1 English cucumber
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar (or substitute balsamic vinegar)
1 tablespoon chili oil

1. Lay the cucumber on a chopping board and smack it a few times with a rolling pin. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into 4 pieces. Cut the cucumber on the diagonal into 1-inch slices. Place in a bowl with the salt, mix and set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

3. Drain the cucumber, pour over the sauce, stir, and serve.

Steamed Eggplant with Chili Sauce

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I love eggplant but I hate frying them but I love their buttery texture when they’re fried. First world problems, amirite? I’ve tried grilling, I’ve tried baking, I’ve tried broiling eggplant to recreate that fried buttery texture, but to no avail.

Until I tried steaming them.

Whatever magical alchemy is happening under the steamer results in a smooth, creamy texture reminiscent of fried eggplant but without, you know, gobs of oil. This simple dish is enlivened with a fiery chili sauce and pairs perfectly with some jasmine rice.

Steamed eggplant with chili sauce

Ingredients:

4 Asian eggplants
salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon black Chinese vinegar (or substitute with balsamic vinegar)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chili oil with chili flakes
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Trim the eggplants, cut them in half lengthwise, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Leave for at least half an hour to draw out the bitter juices.

2. Steam the eggplants over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until tender, preferably in a bamboo steamer fitted over a wok. Leave to cool and then cut into 3-inch pieces.

3. Combine the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Mix in the oils and pour the sauce over the eggplant on a serving platter.

Tomato Curry

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What do you do when you have too many tomatoes? Make tomato curry. This summertime curry is my new surprise favorite — I had an excessive tomato haul and wanted to try something different than salad or tomato sauce. Spicy and savory and slightly sweet from ripened tomatoes’ natural sugars, this whole thing comes together in only a few minutes and is finished with a touch of creamy coconut milk.

If you never thought tomatoes could be the star ingredient in a curry, try this and see if you don’t change your mind. It’s perfect alongside heftier curry, some rice, and pickled things to make a perfect meal.

Tomato curry

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 onion, chopped
1 serrano chili, chopped
1 pound tomatoes, quartered
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground corriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Maldive fish

1. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add fenugreek, mustard seeds, curry leaves, cinnamon, onion, serrano chili, and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, salt, and Maldive fish and cook for another minute, being careful to not burn the mixture.

2. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 7 minutes, until they have softened. Add coconut milk and water, bring to a boil, and simmer until the liquid thickens.

3. Serve as a side curry to a main vegetable, fish, or meat curry alongside rice.