Cucumber, Carrot, and Cellophane Noodle Salad

Suban Sansi

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: UniqueMeal: Easy, Cold

    “Our regular outhouse was next to the pigsty,” recalls Mrs. Chiang, “but we also had an indoor privy just for the women, painted a cheerful vermilion. Nightsoil and manure were our fertilizer; my father collected the nightsoil and pig manure every night and spread it over the fields. It was a wonderful fertilizer, but using it meant we rarely ate raw leafy vegetables; it was too hard to clean them properly. Our salads were made from cooked vegetables, chilled and dressed with vinegar and soy sauce, or from raw vegetables with skins that could be peeled.”

    This salad, which combines raw carrots, cucumbers and cellophane noodles (fensi)in a spicy, garlicky sauce, is a typical raw vegetable salad. Its contrasting colors and textures are as important as its taste. Note, however, that despite the fact that no cooking is required, this dish is not a time saver. Shredding carrots and cucumbers — unless you have a food processor — is sheer tedium. Fortunately, you can prepare everything in advance and leave it in the refrigerator for hours without any ill effects.

    Mrs. Chiang always serves this salad as the filling of a thin crepe, or baobing (Pancakes). Her mother often served whole meals of bing dishes, things that could be eaten as the filling of a crepe. Americans who frequent Chinese restaurants specializing in “Mandarin” cooking are probably familiar with one of the best Pekingese examples of this type of cuisine, Moo Shu Pork. The food of Szechwan abounds in such dishes. Actually, almost any combination of shredded ingredients can be served inside a Chinese pancake, but there are some foods that lend themselves particularly well to such treatment. This salad is one of them. Mrs. Chiang usually serves it with plenty of baobing as the main course in a light supper. You can, of course, have the salad without the pancakes as a regular course in a regular meal.

    Method

    Preparation

    1 package (2 ounces) cellophane noodles

    4 cups boiling water, approximately

    Put the dried cellophane noodles in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. It should only take 10 minutes of soaking at the most for the noodles to become soft. (If for any reason, the noodles do not seem soft enough after you have soaked them for 10 minutes, put them in a saucepan, cover them with water, and let them boil for about 2 minutes.)

    2 carrots

    1 teaspoon salt

    Peel the carrots and cut them into very thin strips, 4 inches long and about ⅛ inch wide, the width of a wooden matchstick. (This is not easy; raw carrots are hard to cut, especially with a cleaver. If you have special difficulty try a thin-bladed paring knife.)

    Put the carrot shreds into a large bowl, sprinkle the salt over them, and mix them very thoroughly.

    2 to 3 cucumbers, depending on their size

    1 teaspoon salt

    Peel the cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds in the middle. Then cut the cucumbers into strips the same size as the carrots. Put the cucumber strips in a bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and let stand for 10 minutes.
    2 scallions Clean the scallions, then cut them, both green part and white, into the same size shreds as the other two vegetables. Put in the bowl with the carrots.
    6 cloves garlic Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of your cleaver, then, peel. Chop the garlic into pieces about the size of a match head. Add the chopped garlic to the carrot and scallion shreds.
    (cucumber shreds) Drain the cucumber shreds. Squeeze out as much of their moisture as you can, then add to the shredded vegetable bowl.
    (cellophane noodles) Drain the cellophane noodles and chop them coarsely, the way you would cut spaghetti into smaller pieces for a child to eat. Add the cellophane noodles to the shredded vegetable bowl.

    2 tablespoons soy sauce

    1 tablespoon sesame oil

    1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

    ½ teaspoon ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns

    1 tablespoon hot pepper flakes in oil

    1 teaspoon salt

    Now add the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns, hot pepper flakes in oil, and salt. Mix very thoroughly so the shredded vegetables and noodles are covered with the sauce.

    Serving

    You can serve this salad just as it is. You can also refrigerate it for a while before serving, but the longer it sits the more it will absorb the flavors of the sauce, and it may become overpoweringly spicy.

    To serve it the traditional Szechwanese way as the filling of a pancake, prepare about a dozen plain Pancakes). Put about a third of a cupful of salad inside each pancake and roll it up like a blintz. You have to eat the filled pancakes with your hands, otherwise they simply fall apart.