About this Recipe
Making cucumber pickles for Nai Nai (my grandmother) gave me a reason to practice my roll-cutting knife skills. I remember being mesmerized by the technique when I would tippy toe to peer at the action on my mother’s cutting board. Tossing the cucumber with salt and having to wait a few minutes before dressing them with rice vinegar added to the anticipation and pleasure of eating. A delicate lace of finely ground white pepper (fermented black peppercorns) and a few drops of sesame oil balance the pickles with an earthy edge and touch of richness. I always select small cucumbers, which Nai Nai prefers, and if watermelon is in season, I go for one with a thick rind, to use in place of cucumbers.
Cucumbers are full of fiber and vitamins, and the addition of garlic, chile, and sesame makes this a super healthy snack or addition to any meal.
- 8 to 10 oz (225 to 285 g) Japanese or Persian cucumbers (you can also use peeled watermelon rind)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3 Tbsp (45 ml) rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar or a combination of the two
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped
- Pinch of crushed dried hot chile peppers or freshly ground white pepper
- 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp or so toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Step 1Cut the cleaned cucumbers into oblique chunks (cut on a diagonal and rotate the cucumber a quarter-turn after each cut) about 1-inch thick.
Step 2Put the cucumbers in a mixing bowl with the salt. Distribute the salt as evenly as you can by tossing with your hands. Cover with a plate and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes at room temperature, or until the vegetables release water and become bendy.
Step 3To the bowl add the vinegar, garlic, chile or pepper, and a few dashes of sesame oil. Taste and make adjustments as you wish. If not serving right away, toss periodically to re-distribute marinade and refrigerate. Best if eaten within a couple days. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over pickles when ready to serve.
Photo by Jeni Afuso
About the author
FERMENT: Food is Medicine
Just ask my grandmother, who is nearing 100 and has an insatiable appetite for pickles, vinegar, and other fermented delights that can help keep us healthy
When we visited my grandparents’ apartment in Monterey Park in the ’90s, a jar of homemade pao cai often accompanied each meal.