This is a fusion (sort of) of two dishes (or kinds of dishes) I really like: one is spicy garlic cucumber salad, such as the one in Fuchsia Dunlop’s The Food of Sichuan and the other are spicy & sour dressed noodle dishes that have a base flavor profile of chile oil, soy sauce, Sichuan peppercorn and dark Chinese vinegar such as Dan Dan noodles or spicy cold noodles. Dunlop’s cucumber salad recipe uses a sweet aromatic soy sauce called fuzhi jiangyou which I made a batch of late last summer. It’s made by simmering whole spices such as black cardamom, cinnamon, anise, fennel, Sichuan peppercorns and more if you have it in Chinese light soy sauce for third minutes, then adding a lot of sugar. It comes out as a viscous syrup that when chilled in the fridge is quite thick (it could be mistaken for molasses at least visually). In the below recipe I suggest dissolving sugar in soy sauce as a substitute but I haven’t tried that!
- Good bundle of lacinato kale. I probably used 4-5 very large (for lacinato) leaves – the stems on some were nearly 3/4 of an inch thick at the base.
- A good handful of fresh strawberries, somewhere around 8 not enormous but not tiny ones.
- 1 tablespoon sweet aromatic soy sauce (fuzhi jiangyou) or 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon superfine sugar.
- 1-2 tablespoons minced or crushed garlic. If you like garlic, add more. Kale can handle a lot of garlic!
- 1 tablespoon chile oil with sediment
- 1 tablespoon chile oil without sediment (I just used some from a bottle of no sediment chile oil I had)
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon green Sichuan peppercorn oil
- 2 tablespoons Baoning vinegar (a Sichuan dark vinegar) or Zhenjiang vinegar or other dark Chinese vinegar
- Pinch of salt and pinch of MSG. I know: very precise. I just do this by look. The soy sauce is already pretty salty obviously!
- 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
- Remove ribs from kale and cut into approximately one inch square pieces
- Remove stem parts of strawberries and cut into quarters or eights radially around the stem point (latter if very big strawberry).
- Heat wok or pan to fairly hot, turn off heat, add a little oil (maybe a tablespoon or less).
- Turn heat back on fairly high and cook kale for a minute or two stirring regularly to get it to be a little wilty and soft, but not releasing much water yet.
- Take kale out and set aside in serving dish to cool.
- Toast sesame seeds in a dry wok or pan until golden and set aside to cool. These will “pop” a little and fly out of the pan some!
- Mix dressing ingredients well.
- Just before serving, add strawberries to kale, pour over dressing in stages and mix thoroughly to coat everything.
- Arrange salad so that a few strawberries are visible on top. Top with toasted sesame seeds.
Future Variations and Thoughts
So your first question might be why kale and strawberries when you’re starting from a cucumber salad recipe!? Well, we had kale and strawberries on hand. But also, a good cucumber is both sweet and a little bitter. Lacinato kale is not in my opinion as bitter as other kale, but it also can standup to a lot of seasoning. Strawberries are obviously sweet! The dark Chinese vinegar and sweetened soy sauce combo also reminded me of balsamic vinegar based dressings for salads with strawberries. So that’s where my mind was. It turned out FABULOUS. It was so much better than I expected it to be and despite all the hot spicy stuff was surprisingly mild. Many American & European salads contrast bitter flavors with sweet and milder flavors so I think I might want to do something like endive lightly dressed in something like this and then arranged with hazelnuts and some other fruit. My partner really likes endive but I am rarely inspired to make salads!