Why It Works
- Salting the cucumbers draws out their moisture, improving their texture while seasoning them.
- A simple sauce made from soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch adds flavor while thickening the liquid the cucumbers release in the wok.
When most people think of cucumbers, they tend to think of uncooked preparations like salads and pickles. But cucumbers are a top-notch stir-fry ingredient. They become juicy and tender after taking a spin in a sizzling hot wok, with an almost silky smooth texture. Their juiciness makes them a perfect balance to spicy and bold flavors—whether those flavors are in the very same dish, or in another dish on your dinner table.
When I want cucumbers to be the star of the table, such as in this full-flavored dish with garlic and chile flakes, I usually add meat such as chicken or pork to ah... beef it up. Here's how.
I start by marinating the ground meat. This recipe uses ground pork, but you can substitute chicken or turkey, or even vegetarian options like sliced tofu. You can do this the night before or the day of cooking. As the ground meat marinates, I prep the cucumbers.
After washing, I partially peel the cucumbers, so that they have alternating peeled and unpeeled vertical stripes. You'll want to scoop out the seeds, or opt for seedless English cucumbers. Then cut them about 1/4 inch thick on the bias—any thinner and they will wilt too much from the salt and heat.
Your next step is to put the sliced cucumbers in a large bowl, adding salt and letting them stand for a half hour, which does two things. First, and most importantly, it draws water out of the cucumber. This produces a less watery stir-fry and gives the cucumbers a meatier texture. Second, the salt seasons them in advance, improving their flavor. Before cooking the cukes, I rinse them and let them drain thoroughly, patting them with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
With the cucumber and ground pork ready, I next whip up a quick sauce, in this case made with soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. You don't need much of it for this dish since the cucumbers release some liquid when they cook—in fact, aside from adding a little flavor, the sauce is largely useful for thickening those juices with the help of the cornstarch.
When it's time to stir-fry, I start with the marinated ground meat, adding the chile flakes and cooking the meat until golden brown. Once cooked, you'll remove the meat and set it aside—you don't want to overcrowd your wok, especially when cooking over not-so-powerful home burners.
Then I add garlic, which I slice to reduce the chances that it burns in the wok's intense heat.
After a few seconds I add the cucumbers and stir-fry them for a few minutes, then add the meat back to the wok.
Next I give the sauce a quick stir to mix any cornstarch that's settled on the bottom back in and add it to the wok. When the cucumbers begin to look a little glossy, the dish is done.
It's time for cucumbers to not only be in your salad bowl, but also in your hot sizzling wok.
2 pounds cucumbers (about 3 large cucumbers), partially peeled to create alternating peeled and unpeeled vertical strips, seeded, and cut on the bias 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
For the Marinated Pork:
1/2 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
For the Sauce and Stir-Fry:
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil, divided
1/2 to 1 teaspoon chile flakes, to taste
1/2 head garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Cooked white rice, for serving
Place cucumbers in a large bowl and add salt. Mix and toss until cucumbers start to release a little bit of water, about 1 minute. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the Marinated Pork: In a small bowl, combine ground pork with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, oil, fish sauce, and cornstarch. Mix well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
For the Sauce and Stir-Fry: In a small bowl combine water, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Mix well and set aside.
Drain cucumbers and rinse under cold running water. Drain well, then pat dry with paper towels.
In a wok, heat 1 teaspoon canola oil over high heat until smoking. Add marinated pork, spreading it out with a spatula so that it makes a thin layer. Let cook undisturbed for 30 seconds. Using the spatula, break the pork into small pieces. Add chile flakes to taste and continue stir-frying until the pork is cooked through and golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Wipe the wok clean and add the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil and heat over high heat until smoking. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 10 seconds. Add cucumbers and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Return pork to the wok and stir well. Mix the sauce with a spoon or chopstick and pour it into the wok. Continue cooking and stirring until the cucumbers begin to look glossy, about 30 seconds. Transfer cucumbers to a plate and serve with rice.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 2 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 22g||29%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||27%|
|Total Carbohydrate 22g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||5%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 8mg||40%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|