This quick and easy recipe was inspired by a Chinese Travel Website that described the traditional foods of various regions. I was delighted to see that pickled cucumbers were listed… because who in the world doesn’t love a good pickle? Quick pickling makes this a great side dish for any occasion because it can be prepped overnight, and everyone really needs a good last minute dish. Just change up the spices, acids, and sweetener to suit your taste or event theme. It’s perfect for a Chinese New Year Celebration because it’s a light and green food to add to all the traditionally starchy New Year’s foods like longevity noodles, moon cakes, spring rolls, and dumplings. What’s more is that you can control the amount of sodium and sugar you put into it… so that family member with high blood pressure can still enjoy a good pickle without cheating with the jarred stuff!
- 2 cucumbers (I used the English hothouse variety because no peeling is needed.)
- 1 tablespoon sea salt (Adjust the amount according to taste & dietary needs.)
- 3 tablespoons Ume plum vinegar (Use any type of vinegar or lemon juice.)
- 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (Use any sweetener such as honey, agave, stevia, etc.)
- ~ 1 teaspoon each of various spices (Try ground peppercorns, coriander, marjoram, ginger, etc.)
Wash your cucumbers well. There is no need to peel English Cucumbers, as pictured here, but the traditional waxed variety can have a bitter peel so it’s better to remove it. (The hothouse types are prettier with the 2 green tones, and we are making quick pickles… so the quicker the better, right?) A traditional looking dish has “cukes” that are split down the middle twice, so that you’re left with 4 long sections. Then cut these into approximately 2 inch chunks.
Salt the cucumber chunks, and stir them well. Refrigerate them covered overnight.
Rinse the cucumber chunks several times in water to remove excess sodium. (I just run water right into the casserole dish they’re already in, and place the top back on. I hold the top and bottom together, and turn them to the side letting the water drain out, leaving the washed cucumbers behind. Not having to wash a colander makes quick pickles even quicker!)
Add your acidic liquid such as lemon juice or vinegar. (I chose Ume plum vinegar because its flavor was a perfect complement for the other Chinese New Year dishes being served.) Also mix in your choice of spices. (After reading through about a dozen of my grandmother’s vintage Chinese cookbooks, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a traditional recipe. Everyone has their own spin, which means that you should feel free to make up your own concoction too!)
Mix your flavored cukes well, and refrigerate until it’s time to plate and garnish for serving. (The pickles pictured here are garnished with diced spring onions and whole roma tomatoes. Click here to see more of the Chinese New Year Party of the Sheep/Ram.)
I hereby confess that I don’t actually measure anything when preparing these little gems. I just go with my creative cooking instincts and prevailing mood to judge the flavor… which is exactly what is fun about this. They always seem to turn out just right. I do, of course, use less salt when making them for my grandmother, and less spice for my mother’s bland preferences. So, those pictured here were decidedly less flavorful than what I typically produce, yet they still tasted fantastic. The take home message is this, don’t be afraid to experiment with flavor. Have fun and enjoy not only the end result but the process as well!