I ponder my relationship with the congenial cucumber of the gourd family, cousin of the squash, originating from India some 3,000 years ago. I admire the cuke in both its raw and pickled states. I have been growing them in my Brooklyn community garden since 2000 mostly because they are delicious and partly because I like the spectacle of vine outpacing trellis on its way up to the sky––imagine a very urban version of Jack and the Beanstalk if you will, we can call it Jiwonny and the Cucumber Vine.
So I was happy to try out, recently, a recipe that calls for cooking your cucumber: Saute with a little meat, serve it up as a nice Korean side dish. In this way, it doubles as a zucchini! (Go ahead and keep it meat-free and sub with tofu. Or not. It will be delish either way). Also, a nice surprise with this recipe is that if you decided not to go any further then just sprinkling the cucumber slices with sea salt, let sit and squeeze out most of its water, you would have a fast faux pickle.
1 long hot-house cuke (or 4 small persians or kirbies)
scallions, 2-3 stalks chopped
2-4 ozs. ground pork, beef, turkey or tofu (optional)
garlic, minced or pressed (however many cloves you think best. i used about 3-4)
sugar or honey, optional
1. Slice your cukes thinly, about 1/8-1/4 inch. Mix with about a tablespoon of salt and let sit about 15 minutes.
2. Mix up your seasoning ingredients and mix it into your meat product or tofu. Here you can adjust the ratio of your ingredients to your liking, but basically you’ll need just about 2-3 tablespoons in total.
3. Squeeze cuke slices in a clean cheesecloth or flour sack until most of the water is out. Careful not to squeeze out all of their cukie flavor.
4. Saute meat or tofu and scallions in a hot pan then add cucumber slices when meat is partly done. Don’t overcook as you want the slices to retain their bright greenness. *If you’re not using meat or tofu, saute the cukes with scallions for about three minutes, then add seasoning sauce and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
5. Turn off the heat. Toss with sesame oil and sesame seeds before serving.
I recommend taking a gander at A Korean Mother’s Cooking Notes by Sun-Young Chang for straightforward recipes and tips on cooking Korean food.