Cantonese-Style Stuffed Cucumbers
My friend Mrs. Wakabayashi learned to make a version of this dish from a Chinese chef in New York City in the mid-’70s. I devoured it then, and whenever I see this dish on Cantonese menus I always order it. I think you will love its textural surprise. Just looking at a cucumber makes you think “crispy,” “crunchy,” not soft and yielding. You will think “vegetal” and instead get sweet. I like to serve this with bowls of Chinese vinegar, chile oil and soy sauce on the table for guests to make their own dipping sauces. In many restaurants you will see small sections of cucumber hollowed out and topped with a stuffing mixture. I like this dish better when larger pieces are stuffed and it’s sliced into smaller pieces after cooking.
Braised Cucumbers with Pork and Ginger
- Four 12- to 14-ounce European seedless cucumbers, ends trimmed
- 1/4 head of Napa cabbage (10 ounces), cored and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/4 cup finely chopped chives or scallions, plus more for garnish
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (this is the best soy sauce around)
- 2 teaspoons Chinese chili paste or Sriracha
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth
Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the cucumbers crosswise in thirds. Using an apple corer or a small spoon, hollow out the seedy centers.
In a large saucepan, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Spread the cabbage in a steamer basket and set it over the saucepan. Cover the cabbage and steam until tender, about 5 minutes. Let the cabbage cool slightly, then pat dry and finely chop.
In a medium bowl, blend the cabbage with the pork, chives, ginger, garlic, cilantro, soy sauce, chili paste, sesame oil and cornstarch. Spoon the filling into the cucumbers and stand them in a 13- by 9-inch baking dish.
In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Pour it over the cucumbers. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake the cucumbers for about 40 minutes, or until they are tender and the pork is cooked through. Let the cucumbers cool in the stock for about 20 minutes. Slice the braised cucumbers on the diagonal and transfer to a platter. Sprinkle with chives and serve.
SERVE WITH A dipping sauce made by mixing soy sauce, chili paste and black vinegar.
Photograph by Madeleine Hill.