The simplicity of steamed foods can be dramatic, as this dish illustrates perfectly. It has an intriguing taste and is very pretty to look at—a cluster of jade-like circles, all a pale celadon.
About 15–20 minutes before serving, cut the cucumber into even coins a scant ½ inch thick. Be precise. They must be cut evenly to steam evenly, or one will be mushy while another remains hard.
Arrange the coins touching one another on one or two flat heatproof plates at least 1 inch smaller in diameter than your steamer. Leave at least an inch free at the rim of the plate to accommodate the juices that will collect during steaming. Use plates on which you can serve the cukes, to avoid having to transfer them once steamed and soft.
Mix the honey with the cassia blossoms to blend. Using your finger, smear the top of each coin with the honey mixture, lightly or more thickly to taste. Sprinkle a bit of ham on top of each coin. Proceed immediately to steam the dish.
(For details on steaming and how to improvise a steamer.)
Bring the water in the steaming vessel to a gushing boil over high heat. Add the plate to the steaming rack, cover the steamer, then reduce the heat to medium-high. Steam the cucumbers for 8–10 minutes, until a knife pierces one coin easily. Serve immediately, surrounded by the steaming juices.
Eat this dish up. It loses everything upon cooling.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.