Recipe Spotlight: Candy's Cukes
My father is an unbelievable cook. He is Italian, which means red sauce is his love language and Marcella Hazan can do no wrong. He routinely drives into the city to check that I - and my friends if he can help it - are properly feeding ourselves, usually with meatballs in hand. Despite his Italian roots, his cooking traverses the world and he’s been known to cook through a new cookbook from cover to cover. While some folks used quarantine to try their hand at sourdough, he decided it was the perfect time to learn how to break down chickens with a new Honesuki knife. Impressive is an understatement.
So when my mom, Candy, steps into the kitchen, it is a rare but special occasion (that's her beaming at the ICA's Yayoi Kusama exhibit in 2019). She is Japanese so on New Year’s day, she celebrates by making ozoni soup with star-shaped mochi. When I was little, she would make miso soup with udon noodles if I wasn’t feeling well.
Photos by me.
Another Candy comfort food that remains with me is her cucumber pickles. To this day, it is the only pickle I have ever loved, even after 11 years of working in restaurants. Candy’s cukes are cold, sweet and acidic, yet a far cry from bread and butter pickles (friends assure me those sweet-tangy things are just as delicious but...to each their own).
Steamed rice and pickles are the foundation of any traditional Japanese meal. When Candy’s cukes are served over warm steamed rice, the brine-soaked rice and cold cukes taste like you are eating effortless sushi.
It cools me off just looking at them.
She learned how to make these from my Grandma Anne. Now I make them impatiently on the hottest summer days when I need a cold, flavorful, acid kick.
Rebel Rebel’s very own Nina included these cukes in her quarantine e-cookbook Eat the Rich that is updated weekly. The book is free but donations to MassUndocuFund, a nonprofit benefiting undocumented workers, are strongly encouraged.
½ ea English cucumber (Persians are cool too), sliced very thin on a mandolin
1 TBL Kosher salt
⅔ Cup Rice vinegar (see note on rice vinegar)
⅓ Cup Sugar
- Slice the cucumber as thin as possible. Please use a mandolin if you have one. Be patient (I am never patient) and be sure they are super thin. Please watch your fingers.
- Lay the sliced cucumbers in a single layer in a bowl or on a sheet tray. (My mom uses a bowl so the water drains to the bottom. I use a sheet tray so I can make more than what a bowl will hold (double this recipe).
- Sprinkle evenly with all of the kosher salt.
- Let the cucumbers sweat for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Squeeze the water out of the cucumbers with your hands. Place squeezed cucumbers in a bowl.
- Pour the sugar and the rice vinegar over the squeezed cucumbers and stir to combine. The sugar will dissolve and the cucumbers will look transparent.
- Let sit until your rice is done. Place in the fridge if you like. You will be putting them on hot rice. I love the contrast of the hot rice and the cold cukes.
To begin, wash your rice and place in a rice steamer for cooking. This cucumber recipe takes as much time as it takes to steam your rice for those multi-taskers out there looking for those little victories. If you do not have a rice steamer at home, instapots have great instructions and David Chang has done a good job of documenting rice cooking at home in quarantine.
When the rice is done, dump immediately into a serving bowl. Sprinkle the rice with Curio’s Edo Spice (see description below). Gently toss the rice and spice together to fluff the rice and bring the temperature down a little.
If you do not have Curio’s Edo Spice, store-bought togarashi works too. Alternatively, a mixture of equal parts chili flakes and sesame seeds can also be delicious. Maybe add a little lemon zest.
Scoop the rice into bowls and top with Candy’s cukes. Use a spoon to get some of the vinegar liquid with the cucumbers. It will soak in the rice grains and taste like sushi rice.
For a more complete meal.
By the time the rice is steamed and seasoned and the cukes are cold in your fridge, pop the marinated salmon in the toaster for 5 minutes and your meal has an exceptional protein addition.
NOTE ON RICE VINEGAR:
Please use rice vinegar and not seasoned rice vinegar. “Seasoned” means that there is added sugar and sometimes corn syrup or MSG. We will be adding our own sugar and salt to this recipe. Growing up, we used “Maruken” brand with the green and yellow label.
Recently I discovered Otafuku rice vinegar and love using it when I can find it. It is available at Reliable Market in Somerville.
Tensei Endless Summer from Kanagawa, an area known for being on the coast and having a laid back surfer vibe. This sake is required beach drinking and complements the cukes with its salinity and mild melon sweetness.
Cool thing: Kanagawa was the birthplace of “The Great Wave” by Hokusai 🌊
Both images courtesy of Brian Samuels Photography
Curio’s Edo Spice.
From Curio’s website: Our Edo Spice signature blend combines chilies, citrus and rare and invigorating sansho pepper from Japan. Edo (rhymes with 'meadow') refers to the historic name of Tokyo, as well as the 'Edo period' between 1615 and 1860, when there was great economic growth in Japan. This blend, with its bright, hot flavors and nutty, umami notes is inspired by the traditional Japanese 7 spice (shichimi togarashi) which is believed to have first been assembled in kitchens during the Edo period.