Softened Cucumber with Chinkiang Vinegar, Sichuan Pepper and Red Peanuts

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There is a dish that I always order when I visit Silk Road restaurant in Camberwell. The main ingredient is cucumber. Yes cucumber folks. I think they even call the dish ‘cucumber salad’. Doesn’t sound that appealing does it at first glance, but let me assure you that cucumber that has been delicately softened or rather smashed with a small ‘s’, then doused in Chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce and sichuan pepper marinade elevates the humble cucumber to something quite extraordinary.

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It is quick to rustle together and is the perfect snack when you have the munchies or if you want to accompany it with perhaps Chinese spiced roast pork or chicken, ginger and spring onion jiaozi or dan dan noodles. Give it a go next time you find a cucumber lurking in your fridge. Chinkiang vinegar (also known as Chinese black rice vinegar) you can get at the larger supermarkets, or you can get online here . Sichuan peppercorns can also be found here.

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I adore the different textures and tastes dancing around on my tongue. Sichuan pepper is seriously addictive – in a good way, so it is worth sourcing it if you can.

Softened Cucumber with Chinkiang Vinegar, Sichuan Pepper and Red Peanuts

1 cucumber, bashed lightly with a rolling pin

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

1 tsp salt

50g red peanuts

  1. Using a rolling pin gently bash the cucumber so that it begins to soften slightly. The reason for doing this is to create a slightly softer texture which will then absorb all the delicious flavours of the marinade more easily.
  2. Cut the cucumber lengthways and halve it again and then cut it on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl add all the other ingredients, aside from the red peanuts, and stir so that they are all mixed together well. Add a little more sugar or salt as needed.
  4. Place the red peanuts into the cucumber bowl and then add the marinade and throughly mix it together so that the cucumber is fully coated with it.

You can prepare this ahead of time or eat it immediately.

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Cold Spiced Soba and Cucumber Noodles

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When it’s hot I like nothing more than a bowl of spiced cold noodles. If you have only ever eaten them hot before you are going to have to trust me when I say that cold noodles are seriously good. The whole meal takes 10 minutes max to prepare, which is even better when the sun is shining and you don’t really fancy spending too long over the stove.
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The crunch of the cucumber noodles and nuts (from the crunchy peanut butter) really compliment this dish. I decided to use dragons back chillies which you can purchase from World of Zing here. The chilli gave the dish a kick without being too overpowering. The spring onion and garlic also adds other wonderful flavours running through this dish. The star of the sauce in my mind is chinkiang vinegar, which is also known as Chinese black vinegar. I adore the stuff and if you love Chinese cooking it is an absolute must for your store cupboard. You can easily pick is up in any Asian food store.

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The sauce is salty, sour and sweet and mixed through the noodles it is absolutely heavenly. It’s a perfect meal to take to work as it is easily transportable and can be prepared the morning or night before and then stored in a fridge until lunch. Remember to take it out of the fridge around 30 minutes before eating so that it has reached room temperature.

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Serves 2 or (1 if you are feeling a little piggy)

85g soba noodles

1/2 cucumber, noodles if you have this or thinly chopped into sticks if not

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle

1 dragons back chilli, halved or quartered

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp chinkiang vinegar

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp chilli oil

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp crunchy peanut butter

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp black sesame seeds

1 tsp salt – optional

1. Place the soba noodles in boiling water and boil for around 5 minutes or according to the packet. Drain and run under cold water so that the noodles are completely cold. Place to one side.

2. Mix the chinkiang vinegar, light soy sauce, chilli oil, sesame oil, chopped garlic*, sugar and crunchy peanut butter in a bowl and stir to form a dressing. Taste and add salt if required.

3. Prepare the cucumber noodles or chop the cucumber into thick sticks.

4. Heat a small pan and when it is hot add the dragons back chilli or other dried chilli so that it darkens slightly in colour. I keep all the seeds, but if you like it less hot you can reduce these. Then add 1/2 tsp of chilli oil and add the spring onions for a minute. Take off the heat.

5. In a mixing bowl add the cold soba noodles, the cucumber noodles, the dressing and the dried chilli and spring onions.  Gently fold in together and place in two bowls. Sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top.

* if you prefer to cook the garlic add it to the pan with the spring onions so that it softens slightly.

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