Stepping into the heat of summer, three green squash become frequent visitors to local dining tables – cucumbers, bitter gourds, and loofahs – something fresh, something bitter, and something tender.
Squash are a gift in a wet summer, and cooking summer squash is easy. The texture of these gourds requires a minimum of cooking time and effort, because it is about keeping this freshness in the same plate.
Star in the world of salads, cucumbers are often used to refresh dishes and the palate with their sweet and crunchy taste. Cucumbers contain a high water content, and that’s where the crunch comes from.
Cucumbers are eaten both raw and cooked in Chinese cuisine, and the recipe that bears the crown is Paihuanggua, the crispy cucumber salad that can be found anywhere, anytime in restaurants, and a recipe so simple it requires no meticulous knife skills or cooking techniques. Just break, mix and enjoy.
The difference between a Chinese crispy cucumber salad and a western style cucumber salad is in the patting and mashing action, as a whole cucumber is first beaten and munched with the side of the knife before being cut. in small pieces. The crispy cucumber will have a looser texture to better absorb the flavorful dressing, the rough surface also making it easier to pick up with chopsticks.
A classic recipe for dressing is made with vinegar, light soy sauce, garlic paste, sesame oil, cilantro, sugar, and salt (depending on the salinity of the soy sauce). Additional condiments such as oyster sauce and small red peppers (xiaomila) can also be added to enhance flavor.
Thorough mixing is necessary to coat the cucumber evenly with the dressing. It can be set aside for a short time, but be aware that the salt can drive the water content out of the cucumber, which could then become soggy.
The skin of the cucumber does not shed either. With a little extra effort, it can become a delicious side dish – the lightly pickled cucumber skin has an extra crunchy texture and a rich flavor from the marinade. The recipe calls for basic seasonings such as vinegar (or lemon juice, for that citrus taste and a lighter color), sugar, salt, light soy sauce, and optional red peppers for a extra boost.
It only takes a few hours to marinate the cucumber skin, which is best done in the refrigerator on the hottest days. Pickled cucumber skin can be enjoyed with congee and rolls for breakfast and dinner.
Cucumber and egg are a classic pairing for making stir-fries or soups. Light, fast and refreshing. The cucumber will become sweeter when sautéed with a little oil and exhibit a milder flavor which is quite different from eating it raw.
To make a quick and visually delicious cucumber and egg soup, simply sauté thin slices of cucumber with garlic and oil, when the cucumbers soften, add water and cover the pan with a lid to bring it to a boil, then pour in the beaten egg and stir, turn off the heat and season with salt, sesame oil and a pinch of chopped green onions.
With extra fresh cucumbers that you don’t want to keep in the fridge, cut them up and add them to a jug of water along with a few lemon slices to make Cucumber Lemon Detox Water, a healthy drink and refreshing to instantly refresh the summer heat.
You love or hate bitter gourds, there is no neutral ground. The vegetable has a unique and distinct bitterness that makes it one of the 10 most disgusting vegetables in China.
On a daily basis, bitter gourds are cooked and served in fresh salads or stir-fries. Unlike cucumber salad which uses the raw vegetable, bitter gourds must be poached in boiling water, then cooled in ice water before being mixed into a delicious dressing, a step that eliminates astringency. and some of the bitter taste.
Bitter gourds are sautéed on their own or with protein such as eggs or meat. The texture of the crunchy squash will soften when cooked, but still retain some of the bitter taste.
Bitter Squash and Sprite Salad is a modern adaptation to alleviate the bitter taste. Chilled poached bitter gourd slices are dipped in a lemon, goji berry, honey and Sprite dressing, a sweeter salad with a refreshing citrus flavor.
Soaking bitter gourds in lightly salted water ahead of time can also neutralize some of the bitter taste. Bitter Squash and Pork Rib Soup is a traditional recipe from the Chaozhou and Shantou regions of Guangdong Province. It is often served in summer to dissipate heat. A bitter gourd is cut into larger pieces so that it can be simmered longer.
Cutting a bitter gourd into small or thick rings, then removing the seeds will create a container in which to stuff the ground pork. The dish is then steamed to retain its shape and a sauce is poured over the top when served for a glossy and flavorful finish.
Loofah is a summer favorite, a delicious vegetable with anti-heat properties. Also known as a towel gourd, loofah is much meatier than cucumbers or bitter gourds, and has a rough, thick skin that should be peeled before cooking.
Loofah has a very light flavor, which makes it versatile in recipes. The fastest and easiest way to enjoy fresh loofah is to sauté the vegetable with a little garlic. To keep it green, don’t forget to sprinkle a little salt on the surface of the slices or pieces of fresh loofah and let stand for a few minutes. Cooking the vegetable in hot oil over high heat is key to preserving the fresh taste and texture. Overcooking luffas can cause moisture loss.
Like cucumbers and bitter gourds, loofahs can be paired with eggs for a rich, umami taste. Loofah and egg stir-fry or loofah and egg soup – simple recipes, great flavors. Adding shrimp and mushrooms can also make the soup more umami.
Loofahs can also be cut into large chunks and steamed with garlic and light soy sauce, a recipe that doesn’t require standing and waiting in a hot kitchen. Loofah and Tofu Stew is another great vegan recipe.
Loofahs are offered in some fondue restaurants as a vegetable, but its fleshy, spongy texture can absorb excess oil when cooked in a spicy broth.
Loofahs are eaten as a vegetable when they are young and tender. It can get much bigger with a hardened texture, turning into a cleaning tool after curing and drying, a natural scratch-free replacement for sponges.