Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Thai cucumber and shallot relish, Ajaad, is a hit

On two occasions recently after fixing this side dish for Thai curries I've had several requests for the recipe. Sometimes the condiment seems to outshine even the curry, the central dish of the meal.

This salad-like accompaniment, called ajaad in Thai, is typically served with massaman (Muslim) curry and as a side dish for satay.

Based on its name in Thai and the fact that it traditionally accompanies originally Malay dishes from southern Thailand, ajaad would appear to derive from the old-fashioned Malay sweet-sour pickled vegetable side dish known as acar. That dish, in turn, derives from Indian achar, a spicy and usually very hot pickle that accompanies curries.

But regardless of its derivation, this is a wonderfully refreshing and very Thai complement for rich, heavy meat dishes.

Thai Cucumber-Shallot Condiment, Ajaad

3 pickling style cucumbers (about 3/4 pound) or 1 large ordinary cucumber
1-2 small shallots (substitute 1 very small onion, red if possible)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons white or rice vinegar
Asian fish sauce or salt to taste
8-10 sprigs of cilantro (coriander leaves)
1 small red chili pepper

If cucumber skin is tough or waxed, peel it thinly, leaving some green color. Then quarter the cucumbers lengthwise. (In Thailand, the cucumber is not usually peeled for this dish.) If using a large regular cucumber, cut off most of the seed section.

Slice cucumber(s) (several pieces at a time) crosswise as thinly as possible.

In a bowl, cover cucumber with cold water and stir in about 1 teaspoon salt. Let sit a minute then drain thoroughly.

Peel and thinly slice shallot or onion (quarter the onion, if used, before slicing). Add it to cucumber. Stir in sugar, vinegar, 1 teaspoon fish sauce or 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Let sit several minutes. Stir again. Taste and add, if needed, a little sugar, vinegar, or fish sauce or salt to make the mixture sweet-sour and mildly salty.

Pick most of the cilantro leaves from their stems and add to cucumber mixture, along with some thinly sliced red chili (excluding seeds, which can be very hot). Stir.

When ready to serve, taste one last time and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Serve in shallow, decorative bowl, draining off part of the liquid if desired. Garnish with a few fine shreds of red chili pepper and a few more cilantro leaves.


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