Out of the Salad Daze: Crunchy Cucumber Salad with Sesame and Peanut Dressing

Cooked dinners seem to make the best leftovers–I’m happy with a tupperware of pasta for lunch the next day, even giddy with the prospect of having extra grilled veggies or meats to save me from the perils of overpriced Flatiron-area lunch options.

But lunchbox salads are trickier: I hate how even lightly-dressed lettuce gets soggy in the fridge. The answer: skip the leaves. Fresh farmer’s market cukes and (ok, nonlocal) peppers, carrots and barely-cooked green beans are sturdy enough to stand up to a flavorful dressing (even after a night in the fridge.) Besides, it’s a nice break from humdrum salad greens.

This recipe is a spin on Americanized Chinese sesame noodles, but without the noodles. The key here is the awesome dressing: nutty and savory, with a kick from from Lan Chi chili soybean paste, fresh ginger and garlic. The crisp texture of carrots and cucumbers does mean your jaw gets a bit tired after a large plateful, but it certainly tastes healthier than the takeout classic. Instead of meat, I added in some shiitake mushrooms, cooked until velvety with a splash of soy sauce and sweet hoisin. They were plenty satisfying, though you could add stir-fried tofu or a little bit of cooked pork or chicken if you have any…

I’ll be honest–it takes awhile to cut all the veggies just so. Feel free to chunk them or slice however you like if you’re short on time. (And not just killing an hour while waiting for your husband’s train to arrive from Jersey.) But there’s something satisfying about the uniformity of vegetable shapes…perhaps you could do the whole thing faster on a mandoline?

This dish would be a great vegetarian option at a summer picnic or barbecue–feel free to make it earlier in the day and let it chill out a bit in your fridge. Pair with some chilled rosé or a tart riesling (or, if you’re drinking beer, a saison or a smoky rauchbier.)

Crunchy Cucumber Salad with Sesame and Peanut Dressing
Serves 3

for the dressing:
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon soybean chili paste (I used Lan Chi) or more to taste
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
pinch sugar
juice of one quarter of a lime

Mash garlic and ginger in a mini food processor or mortar and pestle until smooth. Add remaining dressing ingredients and mix until smooth, tasting for seasoning and heat. Set aside.

1 lb green beans, ends removed
2 sweet peppers (I used one yellow and one red)
3-4 burpless cucumbers
2 small carrots, peeled
2 scallions
1/4 lb shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce

garnish: sesame seeds

Cut green beans in half and place in a large skillet with water to cover. Bring water to a boil and cook until beans are just tender and bright green. Drain and shock with cold water to retain color. Place in a large serving bowl.
Meanwhile, cut peppers into thin strands. Add to sserving bowl. Remove ends from cucumbers and cut in half, then slice into thin pieces to match shape of peppers. Add to salad bowl. Cut carrots into matchsticks and slice scallions and add both to salad bowl.
Rinse mushrooms and remove dirt, then slice in narrow slices. Heat vegetable oil over medium heat and add mushrooms, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Cook until mushrooms are cooked through and add hoisin sauce to coat. Add mushrooms to serving bowl and toss, then add dressing and toss to coat evenly. Serve and garnish each plate with sesame seeds.

In leftovers, light, salad, vegetables, vegetarian

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