Made in Jiānádà: Garlicky Chinese cucumber salad

Er, hello.

It’s been a while. You may remember me as the person who used Xinjiang noodle dough to make pretty much everything.

I’ve been, one might say, busy.

I got a new job about two months ago. I can’t remember if I mentioned it. Academic director of a new start up school. Or, as I’d hoped to have on my business card, Queen of the Fire Spiders. Did I mention that the company that is in charge of this whole project is named Fire Spider? Yes. Hot, roaring, powerful and drops from the sky out of nowhere. Can’t get more auspicious than that.

Convenient tea room on ground floor of my new job where I spent many long days working on curriculum. Unfortunately, I can’t run a cooking blog from here.

My new job (and all the remnants of all the other jobs I was finishing up from my Year of Freelancing) had me out of the house, secreted to deeply Chinese locations out in the suburbs of Shanghai, a lot in the past two months. Meetings, training teachers, schmoozing. Lots and lots of banquets. One of those jobs that never seems to end but which is actually quite engaging. And filling, might I add.

One of the more low key banquets

Poor Doug was frequently left at home to fend for himself for days on end while I nodded and smiled and toasted government officials with fiery Maotai and dined on bear paw, shark fin (*sigh*), various fungi and other banquet delicacies that are ordered more for their impressive price and guanxi building super powers than for any particular delightfulness.

I really don’t recommend the braised bear paw. Though it did help us to get our final and most essential business license. You might want to consider it next time you need to grease the wheels of bureaucracy.

One of the not so low key banquets

Anyway, after nearly two months of absolutely exhausting chaos and 60 hour work weeks and a bit too much bear paw, I’m suddenly back home in Canada for a month to recover.

And it’s really lovely.

This is where I walk every day now that I’m home. Just like Shanghai, except different.

And I have a ton of unstructured time!

I decided the best thing for me to do while here would be to reverse the polarities just a little and attempt to make Chinese food using what I can find here in my Canadian kitchen or out back in our lovely garden.

My cat, the honourable Ms Lola Kedi (formerly of Istanbul) acted as my supervisor.

She disapproved of my chopping technique.

I’ve got about a dozen recipes in my drafts folder, which I’ll attempt to throw together over the next few weeks. All are things I’ve eaten in China, with ingredients that are also available outside of China. Basically, Chinese Cooking 101. Very exciting.

Oh, hey look, it’s China! On a totally retro globe!

Today I’m starting out very simply with a lovely, fresh recipe for cucumbers that we often eat when we go out, and have often made at home. It’s a light, crisp, easy side dish for soups and whatnot. Takes barely 5 minutes to make, plus 15 to sit and marinate. Also, the dregs of minced garlic and marinade left in your bowl after you eat the salad are really yummy thrown into soup.

Pāi Huángguā (拍黄瓜)


2 short knobbly Chinese cucumbers (or half of a long English one)
3+ garlic cloves, finely minced (I used fresh garlic from our garden)
0.5-1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp+ chili oil or paste
big pinch of salt (I like kosher because it’s grainy)


Garlique! C’est chic!
We could call this one clove, except it’s technically a head.

Mince all that garlic. You can be rough. No one minds.

It’s terribly complicated, as you can see.

Mix all the marinadey bits with the garlic. Give it a stir.

Minced garlic, sesame oil, rice wine vinagar and hunan chili paste, together at last.

Get yourself some cucumber. Peel it completely or at least scrape off some nifty racing stripes. I cleared out some of the pulp in mine as I don’t care for it. You can do whatever makes you happy.

I used half of a massive English one, about 6 or 7 inches. Cut it into quarters, then into finger sized sticks.

Marinating the cucumber and garlickiness for half an hour in the fridge to make it super happy.

Let it marinate in the fridge for about 15-30 minutes.

Leftover chipotle pinto-bean soup with a lovely little cucumber salad. Just like China!

Oh! And the ambiance…

Oh, and the garlic stalk for decor. Am practically Martha Stewart!
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  1. Lucy says:

    I’m definitely going to try this. The shops in Bursa have started to stock rice vinegar etc so I’ve been on an Asian food binge. Plus we have small knobbly cucumbers. Yay!

    Enjoy Canada!
    Lucy recently posted..Myth or Reality about Brazil – Part 2My Profile

  2. Susan says:

    That sounds fantastic. Sounds perfect for whenever summer arrives/reappears here. Or just whenever!

  3. Martin says:

    Hi! Nice ‘cucumber take (shoot?)’. Can’t go wrong with sesame oil, chili and (some) garlic. I just know it’s delicious! Besides, your cat and that freshly harvested garlic from the garden both look lovely… Summer with clean air but without these whole greasy weeks of 24/7 rain, having some private green anywhere near you, gardening in the backyard… quite different to the average metropolitan experience in China, isn’t it? Enjoy! … 🙂

    1. MaryAnne says:

      It’s cucumber shoot, though I don’t know why- that’s just what it was called when I looked up the name of the dish. A bit perplexing, really. Regardless of semantics, it’s lovely to be here and not there. Cool, bright temperatures, breeze, clean air, clean water….

  4. Sally says:

    Ah, that picture of the blue sky is killing me. I don’t think I’d be able to do anything but stare up at it and take deep breaths.
    Sally recently posted..An Open Letter To The Guy Who Was Taking Pictures of Me At the ParkMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      I’m inhaling a lot these days. Also, the water is clean! It turns out my hair isn’t dry and fly-away after all! Enjoying it while it lasts… Am guessing you’ll get this in Buffalo? Plus goats?

  5. TracyAnn0312 says:

    Such a lovely place you have and I was dreaming to look at the sky every morning to inhale fresh air. Thanks for sharing the recipe you have but I must admit that I am not eating cucumber, what can be the alternative for it?
    TracyAnn0312 recently posted..שיווק בסלולרMy Profile

  6. mjskit says:

    First of all Congratulations on your new job! Sounds very exciting and quite challenging I know. I’ve set up new programs at various schools and in industry and that was challenging enough, so I can only assume setting up a new school in a foreign country is at the top of the challenge list! Secondly – welcome home! Love your pictures! Thirdly – Garlicky Cucumber – I don’t know – too much garlic for me – NOT!!!!! 🙂 Will be making this tonight!
    mjskit recently posted..Salted Pecan Chocolate Ice CreamMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      Thank you! The new job is very exciting but a lot more than I’d bargained for. When I was recruited (they found me– I wasn’t even looking for a job!) they told me I was going to be head teacher, which is usually an auxiliary management job, mostly helping with curriculum. After the dust had settled, they pretty much handed me the keys to the place and told me I could do whatever I wanted with it… I even have my own private office with en-suite bathroom (my own shower! In my office!) and will have a driver come pick me up and drop me off every day! Very daunting but very exciting!

      Oh, and for the cukes… did you see that ‘clove’ I used? That was one of my parents’ elephant garlics where the head is a clove is a head…Massive, single clove! Marvellous for chopping!

  7. Keri Louper says:

    Congrats on your new job. I am so happy that you are having fun with it. And for the recipe, it is just awesome. I will have to try it sometime.

  8. Ashley says:

    I am so happy for you for having a new job. I am glad you are having fun at it.I am drooling over the recipe you have shared right now. I will try and prepare the cucumber salad sometime.

  9. Steph says:

    Made this for lunch this afternono and it was a pretty spot on replica of our favorite cucumber dish in Xi’an! I wonder though- do they use a different type of garlic in China? The sauce seemed fairly accurate but something about the garlic was off.

    1. MaryAnne says:

      Possibly, but the stuff I got in the market in Shanghai is the same garlic I have here in Canada. Are you in the US? Maybe there’s a different variety? Could be a freshness thing- older garlic can be a bit odd. Very glad you enjoyed it. I’m working on a few other Chinese dishes too… hopefully they’ll be as accurate!

  10. Jeron says:

    When they make this dish in china, they don’t actually cut the cucumber lengthwise, they smash it. This helps create crevices for the tasty sauce to seep into.

    This is pretty easy to do.

    1. Cut the ends off of the cucumber
    2. Put the side of your cleaver onto the cucumber
    3. Channel your inner Bruce Lee and hit the cleaver (It really does take some force, but if you use the heel of your hand, it should only take one good whack).

    If this is done correctly, you should have either 3 or 4 long pieces of cucumber. Just cut them into bite sized pieces.

    1. MaryAnne says:

      Hi, thanks for commenting. I eat those cucumbers a lot in restaurants here in China but to be honest, I don’t like the texture of the smashed cukes as much, which is why I prefer the slicing. Too mushy. But yeah, they do smash them and it does absorb the flavours better. Oh well.

  11. gcblues says:

    making it for years but i add fresh ginger. a Nicaraguan chino taught me

    1. MaryAnne says:

      I had a really interesting meal in a Chinese restaurant in Grenada once…

      1. gcblues says:

        GrAnada. Chinese labor was imported into Central America in the 19th century. many do not mix and still speak Cantonese. I have many times watched Chinese programming via satellite in restaurants.

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