Festive Stuffed Cucumber

It was always a festive occasion when there was a stuffed vegetable on the dinner table, for this meant my mother had had the time to make a complicated dish. One of my favourite dishes from my childhood is stuffed bitter melon. When it was not in season, my mother would substitute cucumbers. They lend themselves to stuffing because their tender, succulent flesh complements so many savoury fillings. Thick cucumber slices are stuffed and then shallow-fried, which seals in the flavours of the stuffing. Then the cucumbers are simmered with seasonings to create the sauce. I think you will agree that this dish would enhance any table on a festive occasion.

Ingredients

  • 675 g ( lb) cucumbers
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour
  • 3 tablespoons groundnut oil

For the Stuffing Mixture

  • 225 g (8 oz) fatty minced pork
  • 55 g (2 oz) peeled, finely chopped fresh or canned water chestnuts
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

For the Sauce

  • 240 ml (8 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander, to garnish

Method

Cut the cucumbers into 2.5 cm (1 in) slices without peeling them. Remove the seeds and pulp from the centre of each cucumber slice, using a small sharp knife. You should be left with rings at least 5 mm (¼ in) thick. Lightly dust the hollow interior of the cucumber rings with a little cornflour. Mix all the stuffing ingredients together in a large bowl. Then fill each cucumber ring with this stuffing.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the groundnut oil and, when it is moderately hot and slightly smoking, gently layer in the stuffed cucumber rings. Cook them slowly until they are slightly browned. Turn them over and brown the other side, adding more oil if necessary. You may have to do this in several batches. When the cucumber rings are brown, remove them from the oil and drain them on kitchen paper. When you have fried all the cucumber rings, wipe the wok or pan clean.

Mix the stock, rice wine, oyster sauce, soy sauces and sugar and pour them into the reheated wok or pan. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then layer in all the stuffed cucumber rings. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer slowly for 7 minutes, or until the cucumbers are completely cooked. Transfer them to a serving platter, lifting them out of the sauce with a slotted spoon.

Pour in the cornflour mixture and simmer until slightly thickened, then reduce the sauce by a third over a high heat. Swirl in the sesame oil and sprinkle in the fresh coriander. Pour the sauce over the stuffed cucumbers and serve at once.

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