I love the crunch of a crisp, refreshing cucumber. And now that cucumbers are in season, I’ve been munching on them as often as I can.
A member of the gourd family, the cucumber may seem an unremarkable vegetable. It comprises mostly water and tastes rather bland solo. But pickle a cucumber in brine or toss a few slices into a tomato and corn mélange and **boom** these cool cukes are reborn into culinary aristocracy.
My cucumber of choice is the Japanese cucumber. Long, firm and slender, it is encased in an even forest green skin and have tiny inconspicuous seeds, unlike regular cucumbers. Funny enough, the Mexican flower grower at my farmers’ market also grows and sells, of all things, Japanese cucumbers!
The Japanese cucumber is my cucumber of choice
As a Japanese cucumber lover, I was delighted to discover a not-your-usual-Japanese-restaurant-version of sunomono. “Su” means vinegar and this rice vinegar-based salad is a common appetizer usually made with cucumbers.
A few Sundays ago, my honey and I were invited to a bonsai exhibition and demonstration organized by the Monterey Bonsai Club at the Monterey Buddhist Temple.
I’ve always been fascinated by this ancient artform originating in China and adopted and evolved by the Japanese. By intricately pruning and training them, these miniature trees in pots mimic aged, mature, tall trees in nature. I learned a few things that day: any type of tree imaginable can be “bonsai’d” and bonsais can be flowering and even fruiting!
I wasn’t expecting to be fed at a bonsai exhibition but our friends snuck us into the member’s only section where a buffet lunch was laid out. The spread was a mix of Western and Japanese dishes and several caught my eye and arrested my tastebuds—among them marinated asparagus, pickled bamboo shoots, and a unique sunomono of cucumbers, glass noodles and shrimp.
Unfortunately, there were no grandmothers/cooks to commiserate and chat with so all I could do was savor the flavors and textures and make a mental note to experiment at home. Which I did and the result of the sunomono experiment is below.
There he is! As much of a habit it is with me, I was advised not to name our bonsai. I think if I did, he would be a Walter.
The second pleasant surprise of the day was that we won a door prize—our very own bonsai! The best part? My husband took ownership of the little specimen and has been watering it religiously.
Of course I just made up the name of the dish but I figured since I discovered while perusing a bonsai exhibition, I should name this dish as such. Plus, it commemorates our very first bonsai as well! I recommend using Japanese, English or any other variety of seedless cucumbers. They tend to be a little pricier but they are devoid of the large seeds, waxy inedible green skin and watery flesh of regular cucumbers.
Time: 15 minutes plus marinating time
Makes: 6 appetizer servings
2 ounces glass noodles
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra for salting
2 Japanese cucumbers, or 1 English cucumber (about 12 ounces)
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds (optional)
Place noodles in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water for 5 minutes, or until completely translucent and tender. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Leave in the sink to drain thoroughly.
In the meantime, mix the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and salt in a medium bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Add the noodles, cover and chill.
Peel the cucumbers and cut into half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon if desired. Cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place the cucumber in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let sit over the sink for 30 minutes. Rinse with cold water and drain.
Toss the cucumber with the marinated noodles and chill for at least 15 minutes. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds and serve.
You can add wakame (seaweed), or cooked crab or tiny shrimp with the cucumbers.
This dish can be made ahead up to 2 days ahead. Prepare all the ingredients as directed except the cucumbers, green onions and sesame seeds. Add them just before serving.
As grandma always says, please share!