Do you like lil' sis's presentation?
After enjoying the cucumber salad at Mandarin Noodle Deli in Temple City, I had to make my own, but with a Vietnamese twist, of course. The main flavor that stood out was vinegar.
Nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) is the base of all Vietnamese sauces. Adding vinegar, lemon or lime juice, sugar, chili peppers, and garlic and you get nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce), but most Vietnamese say nuoc mam for all sauces. Incidentally, nuoc is also the word for water and nation, so you know it's essential to Vietnamese food. Portions are adjusted for various dishes so something like banh beo (Vietnamese steamed rice discs with shrimp) gets a little more sugar for a sweeter nuoc cham.
For this salad, I decided to omit the garlic and chili peppers because it's a little too overpowering. I wanted it to be tart but refreshing, sort of like pickles before they became pickled.
As many cucumbers as you'd like of any kind you like. I've made this salad with English, Japanese, and plain old American seeded cucumbers.
fish sauce, to taste
vinegar, to taste
lemon/lime juice, to taste
sugar, to taste
salt, to taste
Wash the cucumbers and then peel them in stripes. I like to keep some of the skin for color, but not so much that it becomes too bitter.
Remove seeds if you don't like them. Cut the cucumbers into 1-inch chunks. You want the pieces substantial enough to hold up to the vinegar. I've tried making this salad with cucumber slices and it becomes rather mushy. Chunky is better. Salt the cucumbers and leave them in a colander to drain.
In a bowl, add the fish sauce, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, and sugar and adjust if necessary. When I was teaching lil' sis how to make this, she kept asking me for proportions. But part of teaching her how to cook is to trust her instincts and tastebuds. Once you learn how to eyeball what works for you, you can just add all the liquids to a bowl with the cucumbers instead of mixing it separately.
Allow to chill in the fridge for about half an hour before serving.
The cucumber salad is meant to be a side salad but lil' sis and I, as well as several of our cousins, like it so much that we literally eat the whole bowl. In fact, one of my cousins was just rooting around in my fridge in search of a bowl of this cucumber salad. But since I didn't have any left and she had requested the recipe, now she can make her own.