Szechuan Steamed Stuffed Cucumbers, a Light and Satisfying Meal
Steaming cucumbers may seem unusual. However, this dish has a surprisingly tasty flavor, as the mild bitterness of the cucumbers contrasts beautifully with the rich pork filling. Better yet, these cucumbers are quick and easy to prepare on busy weeknights.
As the weather warms up, dreams of Cape Town fill my mind. Naturally, this reminds me that I’ve packed on a couple of unwanted kilos this winter. So, I’m on the lookout for lighter recipes which will allow me to enjoy dinner while losing a little weight.
Personally, when I think of lightening up my menu, I think of Chinese food. I know this sounds like a cliché and, of course, the Chinese also have their share of rich and fattening dishes.
However, my Chinese aunt always looked beautiful and I vividly recall how she managed. My aunt inevitably began preparing lots more vegetables with less meat as spring rolled around. She would also emphasize more steamed dishes, as they are naturally much lighter.
So, when I unearthed this unusual recipe for steamed cucumbers, I thought I ought to give it a go. The result? Nothing short of delicious!! Even my husband, who can be a picky eater, enjoyed this dish.
This recipe was adapted from Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook: Szechwan Home Cooking, a classic which was originally published in 1976. At that time, it was one of the earliest Chinese cookbooks in English. The fact that Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook: Szechwan Home Cooking has remained the gold standard for any cook wishing to master Szechuan cuisine is no accident.
Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook: Szechwan Home Cooking opens with an introduction to Chinese cuisine and explains food appreciation in the Chinese context. Elements such as taste, texture, banqueting, and nutrition are all covered in helpful detail.
However, the most entertaining part of Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook: Szechwan Home Cooking, is undoubtedly the personal anecdotes. Mrs. Chiang’s reminiscences about her childhood in rural Szechuan are shared along with her recipes, which helps connect them to a specific time and place.
This single tome covers a broad range of Szechuan foods, from omelets to pickles. It also assigns each dish to a flavor category and meal type, which is very helpful. Stuffed Cucumbers, for instance, are “mild and gingery” and “almost in advance”. So, it is easy to identify the dishes that are appropriate for your family and the occasion.
Szechuan cuisine is so broad that it would be impossible for one book to cover absolutely everything. However, Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook: Szechwan Home Cooking is certainly an excellent book to introduce you to the rich and vibrant flavors of Szechuan and help you recreate them at home.
About this Recipe
This is a steamed dish. If you’re accustomed to using small bamboo steamer baskets set over a wok, you may be wondering how cucumbers will ever fit into them.
Well, my Aunt often steamed on a simple dinner plate, which fits neatly into a standard wok. It is very easy to do if you have a few inexpensive bamboo chopsticks on hand. You can simply place them in the wok, in a crosshatch formation, as shown at left. The hot water can be poured into the bottom and a dinner plate can be placed on top of them with the cucumbers.
The only word of caution I have for you is to be very careful of the steam. Steam burns can be nasty. So, do use oven mitts when you place or remove the dinner plate.