Stuffed Cucumbers

Huanggua Niangrou

Flavor: Mild and GingeryMeal: Almost in Advance, Steamed

“Szechwan winters could get very cold,” recalls Mrs. Chiang. “On the coldest days I would stay in bed, dozing under thick quilts. The only heat we had came from earthenware braziers, and when I had to get up I would warm my clothes on one before I dressed. There was a big one under the dinner table, and each of us had a little one to warm our feet while we ate. Even the hot food helped warm the room. In cold weather my mother made a lot of steamed dishes, and the steam helped heat the kitchen. Her steamed dishes were delicious, and these delicate stuffed cucumbers would lure even the coldest child out of bed.”

For such an attractive dish, stuffed cucumbers are surprisingly easy to prepare. All you do is hollow out raw cucumbers, fill them with a rich mixture of ground pork and spices, and steam them. Somehow the savory stuffing and slightly bitter cucumber complement each other perfectly. Since you can interrupt the cooking process at any one of a number of points, this is a useful dish for dinner parties. It looks as if it must have been hard to make, and everybody loves it.

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Method

Preparation

4 cucumbers

1 teaspoon salt

Peel the cucumbers, then cut each one in half crosswise and scoop out all the seeds from the inside of each piece, leaving a hollow shell made of the firm outer meat of the cucumber. Put the cucumbers in a dish and sprinkle the salt over them. Make sure that the salt is thoroughly distributed over the cucumbers, then set them aside for 15 minutes.
½-inch piece fresh ginger Peel the ginger, then mince it until it reaches the consistency of farina.
3 scallions Clean the scallions, then chop them, both the white part and the green, into tiny pieces, about the size of a match head.

½ pound ground pork

(ginger)

(scallions)

4 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

½ teaspoon ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns

1 egg

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Put the ground pork in a bowl. Add the chopped ginger and the scallions to the pork, along with the soy sauce, sesame oil, ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns, egg, salt, and cornstarch. Mix well.

Drain the cucumbers, then stuff them with the pork mixture and put them on a plate. You are now ready to steam them.

Cooking

(stuffed cucumbers)

As soon as you have assembled your steamer, bring the water inside it to a boil. Put the plate of stuffed cucumbers on the rack, cover it, and let the cucumbers steam over a high flame for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat. First check the water level inside the steamer, adding some more water if it is needed, then let the cucumbers steam for another 10 minutes. Remove them from the steamer.

Cut each cucumber half into about 5 slices and arrange them decoratively on a serving dish.

½ teaspoon sesame oil Save the juice that exuded from the cucumbers while they steamed. Add the sesame oil, stir it up, then pour it over the cucumber slices just before serving them.

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