Back in the day when I first discovered sushi (that epicurean wonder of the world), you would find me (feeling very internationally cultured), piling a mountain of pickled ginger (aka: gari) up all over my (fancy and adventurous) California roll; dipping it into a pool of soy sauce (carefully combined with a dab of that pale green wasabi paste…no lumps allowed!!), and then shoving the whole thing ever so delicately into my face. Mmmphhfffffffp.
Hopefully I have learned a few things about proper sushi etiquette since then and one of my most obvious faux pas of the past (you already know … I know you do) was the fact that I was seriously abusing the gari! Like…wait, this is meant to be a palate cleanser? As in, between bites of sushi…not ON TOP of? Seriously?
Dang. I sure don’t want to offend anyone (or embarrass myself for that matter) but I really do like that stuff. Now that I know better I can’t bring myself to treat it like it’s ketchup – at least not in public. Doesn’t mean I don’t still want to.
So…If your favorite thing about going out for sushi is nibbling on that crazy, pungency packing pickled ginger that comes in a pretty pink pile on the plate, then this clean and crunchy mix of taste-bud tingling happiness is for you.
Now cucumbers may be the headliner in this show but it’s the garlic, red onion, and that rough looking rhizome, raw ginger, that take this over to the oh, HELLOoooooo LOVAH – zone. These three amigos are potent players to be sure, although I gotta confess – I am NOT a huge fan of the raw red onion situation in general. I love strong flavors, but onions can bite! They smell up the place, and are just sorta aggressive, ya know? I have found however, that you can tame these magenta beauties if you know how to treat ’em.
And as it just so happens, that’s how you get this party started:
Whisk together some rice vinegar, sugar, olive oil and dark sesame oil in a medium-sized bowl. Thinly slice about 1/4 of that red onion …. you should end up with roughly half a cup. Now toss those purple slivers in with your dressing, mix well and let that sit for a bit. This pre-game soaking de-intensifies the sulfur in the onions and mellows them right out.
Fresh ginger root may look knobby and intimidating, but it cleans up really easily with any old vegetable peeler. Just work around those nibs and protrusions as best you can, and give it a good scrape down. You can also use the edge of a spoon for this job (see how here). Underneath that weirdly woody exterior you’ll find a fragrant, almost peppery, dense flesh. Slice this up, and then pop what you got into a mortar and get out your pestle.
A mortar and pestle is a kitchen gadget…thingie…device(?) used since ancient times to prepare ingredients by crushing or grinding them into a paste or powder. Completely low tech….. but I am here to tell you, there is much fun to be had smashing up that ginger in that little ceramic bowl with that little ceramic bashing rod.
Then you get to add the garlic, and give that a pound down. Yay! Add some course salt to this to help it along. Clearly I know how to have a good time, cos this is some physically satisfying shiz goin on here.
(If you don’t happen to own one of these babies (I’m sorry) a food processor will work fine. Just give it all a pulse, pulse, pulse…..not too much! You want to get this well crushed but still slightly chunky. You can use a knife as well….but you have to be really dedicated and although this is a really good salad I’m not sure it’s worth all that much trouble)
Now add all of this fractured flavor to your bowl of dressing.
Peel 3 cucumbers and slice them in half, lengthwise. Use the tip of a spoon to scrape out the seeds, and cut them at an angle into fairly sturdy slices, about 1/4 inch thick. Roughly chop some cilantro while you are at it, about 1/4 cup.
Toss the cucumbers and cilantro with that gorgeous garlic-infused, gingery, pickled perfection, and top it all off with a scatter of toasty sesame seeds. Leave it to sit and mix and mingle for about ten minutes.
But I like it best on top of some sushi tuna. Yeah that’s right….I tossed out those old wooden chopsticks and used a fork. I guess I’ll never learn……
RECIPE BELOW: I got this recipe from a gorgeous cookbook called PLENTY by Yotam Ottolenghi. It’s a beauty, so if you love your veggies AND you love a pretty cookbook, check it out. This salad takes very little time to throw together, 20 minutes tops, and serves 4. Leftovers may not be your thing here as the strong flavors that make this so very, very good sorta magnify as time goes on. And you know what they say about too much of a good thing.
- For the dressing
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil (which I did not have so I used olive oil)
- 2 tsp toasted (dark) sesame oil
- For the salad
- 1/2 of a red onion, very thinly sliced (you should end up with 1/4 - 1/2 cup)
- 1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 tsp course salt (I used Kosher salt)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 medium to large cucumbers, peeled and seeded, cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 3 tbsp chopped cilantro (a big fat handful)
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (completely optional as I have made this salad with and without and I really don't notice a difference, except its kinda pretty)
- Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a medium sized bowl.
- Add the red onion, mix well and leave aside to marinate for up to an hour. (I left it for about 20 minutes)
- Place the sliced ginger and the salt in a mortar and give it a good smashing with the pestle. Add the garlic and continue bashing until it is well crushed and broken into pieces. Stop pounding before it disintegrates into a paste. You can also use a knife, or a food processor for this.
- Add the smashed ginger/garlic mixture into the bowl with the dressing and onion. Give this a stir.
- Add the cucumber slices to the bowl, along with the cilantro and sesame seeds. Mix well and leave to sit for 10 minutes.
- Stir the salad again, and give it a taste for seasoning. Add salt, maybe a little vinegar or sesame oil, if you're feelin it!
- Anything! Roasted chicken, grilled steak, bbq pork, or my favorite, sliced sushi tuna. YUM!