Why It Works
- Toasting the hazelnuts adds depth of flavor and makes them easier to pulverize into a coarse powder.
- Pairing mustard oil with red pepper flakes creates a complex, layered heat.
The best way to describe this salad is a plate of chemesthesis, a phenomenon caused by chemicals stimulating sensory receptors that detect pain and inflammation, a sensation that should be familiar to anyone who's eaten horseradish or wasabi.
The fiery nature of the mustard oil with red pepper flakes against the backdrop of the cool cucumbers provides a unique sensory contrast, and it's the perfect complement to any number of meals, whether you're grilling some steak in the backyard or sitting down to a South Asian feast. It's a particularly good accompaniment to rice, seafood, and vegetables, but it has its place on a meat-heavy table, since we've found it cuts through heavier foods quite nicely.
Be sure to season the cucumbers with salt just before they’re ready to serve; otherwise, they'll release a lot of water as the salad sits, which will dilute the dressing.
Editors' Note: Nik Sharma's book, The The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes, is available for purchase.
- 1/2 cup (2 oz; 60g) raw hazelnuts or peanuts, skinned
- 2 English cucumbers (25 oz; 700g)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) mustard oil
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) lime juice, from 1 lime
- 2 teaspoons (1/8 oz; 4g) red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt
In a small dry saucepan, toast hazelnuts over medium-high heat, until they just start to brown and become fragrant, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to mortar and crush with pestle to form coarse powder. (Alternatively, use a spice grinder.)
Trim and discard ends of cucumbers. Cut each cucumber in half lengthwise and then into thin slices. Place sliced cucumbers in a medium mixing bowl.
Using a whisk or fork, thoroughly mix mustard oil and lime juice in small bowl and pour over cucumbers. Add toasted hazelnuts and pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Season to taste with salt. Serve immediately.
While many mustard oils available both in specialty stores and online in the United States are labeled "For External Use Only," they can be used in this recipe. If you are concerned about the levels of erucic acid in commonly available mustard oils, you can purchase Yandilla mustard oil in stores or online. It contains a relatively lower amount of erucic acid and is thus approved by the FDA for human consumption.