Bento filler: Cucumber and Nashi (Asian pear) marinated salad
Cucumbers are a perennial staple for me. They are available at any time of the year, even in the depth of winter. Sure they are greenhouse grown, but they are for most of the year anyway. They add a nice refreshing crispy crunch to any meal, including bentos. This is an extremely easy to make-ahead salad or marinade. Make it at least an hour before you want to eat it, or the night before for bentos. It will stay nice and crunchy for a week if you keep it tightly covered in the refrigerator, and the flavors will mellow nicely. This kind of marinated salad or instant pickle is called an amasu-zuke (sweet vinegar marinade). I have added a nashi or Asian pear to the cucumbers - their sweetness allows me to reduce the amount of sugar normally used to half, and the crispy texture is really nice with the cucumber.
Recipe: Cucumber and nashi (Asian pear) marinated salad
Makes about 8 cups of salad, plenty for several bentos and meals.
- 2 large cucumbers
- 1 medium to large nashi or Asian pear
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 tablespoon light (usukuchi) soy sauce (see soy sauce basics) - or use any soy sauce you have instead. Use a gluten-free soy sauce if you are concerned about gluten intake.
- 6 tablespoons rice vinegar or mild apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar or equivalent sugar substitute
- 1/3 teaspoon dried hot red chili pepper flakes, or to taste (or use ichimi togarashi instead)
Slice the cucumbers in half lenghwise, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the halves again into half, so you end up with quarters. Cut up the cucumber into chunks about 3/4 cm / 1/2 inch thick (no need to be too precise here; just chop away roughly).
Peel, quarter and core the nashi pear. Slice fairly thinly.
Combine the cucumber and pear in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the rest of the salt, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and chili pepper flakes. Stir well but don't worry if the sugar and salt don't melt totally - they will melt once you mix this with the vegetables. Put the combined sauce in the large bowl with the cucumber and pear, scraping out any unmelted sugar and salt. Mix very well. Cover, and let rest for at least an hour or overnight in the refrigerator. It will keep tightly covered for a week.
If using in a bento, you may want to put it in a leakproof container if you add some of the marinating sauce. This goes well with a Japanese-style or not-so-Japanese style bento.
Try using a crispy apple like Fuji instead of the nashi pear.
You can make a cucumber-only salad too, in which case increase the sugar to 2 tablespoons.