Sweet & Tangy Cucumber Salad
When I was doing a search for quick and easy summertime appetizers, I came across Martha Stewart’s Quick Pickled Cucumber Salad and that’s what inspired me to try making traditional Thai chicken satay at home. Of course, you can’t have traditional Thai chicken satay without having the sweet & tangy cucumber salad, also known as ajad, to accompany it. It’s very similar to Martha’s recipe and so simple to make. It was only later that I learned that cucumber and onion (and sometimes tomato) salads have been a summertime bbq staple of the South for many years. It’s always so interesting to see how different cultures make variations of essentially the same dish using the same basic ingredients.
This recipe calls for only 6 ingredients: red onion (it can be any kind of onion, but I think the red color looks nice), salt, pepper, sugar, rice wine vinegar and cucumber. If I were really a true Thai girl, I’d add a 7th ingredient, cut up Thai bird chilies. However, I can’t stand spicy food at all, and Thai bird chilies are one more hot chilies out there, so I skipped that ingredient.
Start by washing the cucumber, peeling it, and slicing it lengthwise down the length of the cucumber. You should end up with 2 half-moon shaped pieces. I like to slice my cucumber lengthwise so that I don’t end up with a large mouthful of cucumber, I just feel like a half moon slice is easier to eat than a larger round slice of the cucumber. I have a mandolin, so I used that at its thinnest setting to slice the cucumber. Personally, I like thin slices because it soaks up the tangy sauce a lot faster and makes the cucumbers more flavorful. However, traditionally Thai ajad uses thicker slices of cucumber, about 1/8″ to 1/4″ in thickness, however they use smaller, sweeter pickling cucumbers that you can find in Thailand. Using the mandolin, I sliced the cucumber directly into a large glass bowl that I will be using to mix everything together.
Next ingredient is the red onion. Peel the onion, slice it in half, and run it through the mandolin using the same thickness that you used with the cucumbers, that way the two ingredients in the cucumber salad are of the same thickness and uniformity. Throw the onions into the same bowl with the cucumbers. At this point, if you were adding Thai bird chilies, you’d want to slice the chili really thinly across its length, much the way you’d thinly slice green onions, and then throw the Thai bird chili into the bowl with the cucumbers and red onions as well.
The sweet part of the cucumber salad comes from the addition of granulated sugar. Into the bowl with the cucumber and the onion, add 1 teaspoon of granulated white sugar.
To the bowl, add rice wine vinegar. Start with about 1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar. Again, rice wine vinegar is not as acidic as traditional white vinegar, but it still does have a bit of a bite to it, that’s where the tanginess from the sweet and tangy cucumber salad comes in. When you finally combine all of the ingredients and taste it, you may need to adjust the sweetness and tanginess by adding more sugar and/or rice wine vinegar.
It’s time to add a pinch of salt and some fresh ground black pepper into the bowl as well. The pinch of salt will help draw the moisture out from the cucumber and the red onion and help add the flavor from the cucumber and red onion to the dressing, if that’s what you want to call it, of the cucumber salad.
Now, just combine everything in the bowl together. You want the cucumber to combine with the red onions and the salt, pepper, sugar and rice wine vinegar to all mix together. In order for the cucumber salad to really develop flavor, you want to throw the bowl with the cucumber salad into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to an hour. When it’s chilled and nice and cold, it goes perfectly with hot grilled items and creates a wonderful contrast between hot and cold.
After chilling in the refrigerator, you’ll notice that the flavors of the dressing really do come together. Also, the amount of “dressing” you have will have doubled as the moisture is drawn out from the cucumber and the red onion. Plate the cucumber salad into a nice bowl or serving dish. The color contrast between the red onion and the green cucumber really stands out.
Serve your sweet & tangy cucumber salad along side grilled chicken satay skewers, homemade peanut sauce, and toast points, and you have a perfectly traditional Thai chicken satay plate. The hot, and slightly sweet chicken satay skewers are finished off nicely by the refreshing and tangy cucumber salad. This is the perfect, easy meal, on a hot summer day.
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart