When I write my menus, I try my hardest to base them on seasonal, local products. However, I find my locavore convictions – so strong in spring, summer and fall – seem to wane somewhere around the 390th root vegetable dish I've made during an Ontario winter.
I've worked in Denmark, where, even in the dark, snowy months, they tackle cooking seasonally with a zealous relish and energy. It's admirable and impressive. Unfortunately, I'm made of weaker stuff than the Danes. There's only so many times I can try to be inspired by tubers before I want to weep.
But I think I've found the perfect remedy for the winter blues. I've spent quite a bit of time working in Singapore over the last year, and while there, I discovered Peranakan food. The hybrid cuisine finds its roots in the Chinese-Malay communities of Malaysia and Singapore. Its dishes are punchy and full of flavour – just the thing to spice up a cold December night. This is a simple salad that can be served as a side dish or paired with grilled chicken or fish and rice for a wholesome, tasty meal. All these ingredients are readily available at your nearest Chinese market
2 cucumbers, medium-sized, cut in half and sliced in half moons, ½ cm thick
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons Sambal Oelek
2 teaspoons sugar
2-3 limes, juiced
5-7 small red Asian shallots, finely sliced
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons of dried shrimp
Mix the cucumbers with the salt and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain any water that has been drawn out of the cucumbers.
Make the dressing by mixing the Sambal Oelek, sugar and lime juice together until the sugar is dissolved.
Toss all the ingredients together. Check for seasoning. It should be spicy, acidic and quite salty from the dried shrimp. Keep in mind that this is generally served with rice and could be more seasoned than you might think. Adjust to your liking.