Two of us ate twelve cucumbers in two days last month, and guess how many salads did we have? One. Yes, one. I prefer to cook cucumber, particularly in winter when cucumber’s flesh tends to be less supple and succulent.   

The cucumber binge started with a discount at Lidl that compelled me due my financial situation – I make significantly less than the minimum wage – and it ended up rekindling a passion for the Chinese ways with cucumber. In years of living in China, I only ever got to know one dish of uncooked cucumber. The Chinese cook cucumber, and you would be surprised how good it is – for the non-initiated, it is not even obvious that the chunky vegetable in soups is ordinary cucumber.

Let’s start with price: at one point last month, cucumber in Lidl were 39 cents each before climbing to 69 cents and now, in the last few days, rising further to €1.19. That is less than last year (starting from €1.29), and relatively uncostly, comparable with other staple vegetables such as tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini), bell peppers, mushrooms and so on.

Succulence in soups

The easiest and quickest Chinese dishes you can prepare with cucumber are two popular soups.  

The more complex of this is made by frying chopped garlic, then some mincemeat, before adding water, chicken stock, and peeled, chopped cucumber, and in the end adding chopped spring onions, sesame oil, and roasted chilli sauce. Click here to see a recipe and method of this soup in a You Tube video

I added condiments to my soup as soon as I turned off the burner: I stirred in a tablespoon or two of sesame oil, and a teaspoon of roasted chilli and peanut oil. You can make the chilli oil at home, or buy it in a jar – I buy a jar called Crispy Chilli in Oil (sold in Asia Foodstore in Gzira as well as Wenzhou Supermarket in Mosta).

An even plainer soup is the egg and cucumber soup – click here to see a how-to You Tube video.  (This light soup would go well if combined with a heavier, spicier dish, or simply fried rice.)  

Talking of fried rice, I also use cucumber in fried rice. I typically fry the rice in this order: fry eggs in sizzling oil, add chopped green chilli (I prefer green chilli because it imparts heat as well as aroma) and stir in, then add finely chopped cucumber (with skin on) and sliced spring onion. Then add a drizzle of soy sauce, mix in, and turn off the burner.

Belly fat and sliced cucumber

The principle ingredients of this dish - which I invented - are pork belly streaks, cucumber and douban paste.  

Douban paste

Here are ingredients for two large servings:

  • 1 tablespoon of douban paste
  • 1 teaspoon of fermented black beans
  • Two finely chopped green chillis
  • A handful of shredded, pickled turnip (this is called preserved mustard stem on the packet)
  • Three rashers of belly fat sliced (this is found in Lidl, called pork belly sliced or, in Italian, pancetta di suino a fette)
  • Two cucumbers with skin on, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • A teaspoon of powdered chicken stock and salt to taste
  • Two spring onions, finely chopped

Heat a little oil in wok on medium flame, and put in the douban paste, fermented beans and green chilli and cook until the paste starts bubbling. Add the sliced belly fat and cook, stirring, until cooked through. Then add the cucumber and chopped pickled turnip, and stir-fry on medium to high burner for a few minutes. Add a teaspoon of chicken stock and a drizzle of water (3 or 4 tablespoons), cover the wok and allow to cook for around 2 minutes. Then uncover, add chopped spring onions, and stir fry to another minute or so. Serve over steamed rice.

Preserved mustard stem

Try the recipe – everyone I have cooked it for has loved it.

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