~Oh My Thai: Spicy Quick-Pickled Cucumber Relish~
Thai cooks use a lot of cucumbers -- in soups and salads, and as garnishes. This cool, crunchy and refreshing cucumber relish is one of the most common condiments for Thai food in general. It's found in all Thai home kitchens and on the streets of Thailand too, meaning: the high-quality "street food" that vendors sell and many Thai people eat on a daily basis. These cucumbers are often served to cut the richness of coconut-based curries, and, are particularly good when accompanying grilled or fried fare: omelettes, fish cakes, corn fritters, satay, spring rolls or barbecued chicken (to name a few). This bright, lively relish is a balanced combination of the "four signature S's" of Thai cuisine that renders it so addictive: sweet, sour, salty and spicy!
The following recipe is quite straight-forward and it does not vary much amongst people who know how to cook Thai food. It is simply a few basic ingredients inherent to Thai cuisine. That's it. Yes, of course you can adjust the proportions to suit your palate (less sweetness, more heat, etc.), but please don't pick up a bottle of Chinese soy sauce in place of Thai seasoning soy, or, wrinkle up your nose and decide to not use the fish sauce (which is the salt of Thailand)!
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 cup sugar
* Note: Some Thai cooks bathe the vegetables in room temperature or slightly-warm syrup prior to serving, which softens the texture and mellows the flavors. I like to refrigerate the syrup and assemble the relish using cold ingredients because I prefer a crispy texture.
~Step 1. Place the rice vinegar, water, seasoning soy and fish sauce in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a 1-quart food storage container and refrigerate for serveral hours or overnight.
2-2 1/2 pounds peeled, halved and thinly-sliced, English (also known as European, burpless, seedless or hothouse) cucumbers
1 1/2-2 cups, halved and thinly-sliced shallots
4-6 very-thinly sliced or minced, red Thai chile peppers, more or less, to taste
1 cup minced cilantro
1/2 cup blanched, unsalted peanuts, lightly-toasted and coarsely-chopped
~Step 1. Place the peanuts in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish. Roast on center rack of 375 degree oven until lightly-toasted, fragrant and golden, about 12-15 minutes, stopping to stir with a spoon about every 5 minutes during the process. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Using a mortar and pestle (this method is true Thai-style), or, a cutting board and a chef's knife (this method, for me, is much faster), coarsely chop the nuts.
Note: After a bit of slicing and dicing, things will look like this. If it looks like a lot, trust me, it's not. When I make this relish, I always make this amount. My family enjoys it so much, I make it even when I'm not serving Thai food. In the Summer, when our vegetable garden supplies me with lots of tomatoes, I chunk and add those to the mix too, which makes a fantastic side-salad to almost any American-style meat hot off the grill!
Note: Kept refrigerated, relish will stay crisp and delish for 3-4 days:
Special Equipment List: 2-quart saucepan; large spoon; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula
Cook's Note: The first time I tasted real-deal Thai food the year was 1993 and it was right here in Happy Valley, PA. The dish was ~Thai Red Pork Curry w/ Steamed Jasmine Rice ~. It was prepared by for me by a woman from Thailand and, for me, it was love at first bite. Over the next years, until Kanya moved back to Thailand, I learned as much as I could from her. For a great story and a great recipe, click into Category 3 or 13!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)