This incredibly simple dish is inspired by one of my favorite appetizers at Han Dynasty - cucumber batons and dried chilis, slippery with fragrant oil and flecked with coarsely cracked peppercorn, briefly heated and then served room temperature or slightly chilled. It lends to a crisp and refreshing mouthful, with just a touch of the tell-tale Sichuan "ma la" tingle. I took direction from Fuschia Dunlop's recipe for Spicy Cucumbers but lessened the oil and added a pinch of sugar to heighten the slight sweetness that I love so much about the dish when I have it at Han's.
Sichuan Cold Cucumber Salad
Makes 2-3 appetizer/side servings
*A handful of dried red chilis
*Healthy pinch of coarsely ground Sichuan peppercorns
*2 teaspoons sesame oil
*Big pinch of sugar
Cut the cucumbers into halves and then, taking care to cut around the seedy, pulpy center, cut the cucumber halves into batons roughly the size of French fries. Put them in a colander and sprinkle with salt to draw the moisture out, and drain for at least 30 minutes. Pat them dry with a paper towel.
Heat the wok over high and swirl a glug of peanut oil around the sides. Add the chilis and peppercorns and stir-fry for a few seconds before throwing in the cucumbers. Toss well for about 10 seconds or so, and then remove the wok from heat and add the sesame oil and sugar, mixing thoroughly. Best when served chilled.
Update: I've lately been mincing a clove of garlic to throw in with the chilis in the initial quick stir-fry. I think it a very nice addition to the salad.