Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Cool As a Cucumber.


There's the saying that you eat with your eyes. Nowhere is it more true in times of self-imposed ascetism, balancing out the bouts and binges of all the things we love to love in excess.

Some call it a diet. Others doll up the word "diet" with intended feelings of well-being/smugness and call it a "cleansing." Whatever the title, often, it's an integral part to eating and living. The spring clean was a long time ago, as my kitchen attests. But every so often between my lusty affairs with bacon and butter, my heart calls out for crisp precise bites of verdant things.

To some, this recipe may resemble more of a relish, but to me, it is an ideal salad, full of texture, color and most importantly, flavor. I'm continually amazed at those on a perpetual diet subsisting on leaves of lettuce with dashes of dressing.

When I need to re-calibrate my gluttonous self, I need food that reminds me of vitality and freshness. Something that has some toothy give, not just the passive presence of some old sorry ass "spring mix." 

This recipe is invigorating to make and eat. The chopping and dicing might appear tedious, when one is in the  mood to be productive, efficient and begin anew, this recipe provides all the rhythm to make you believe you're on the track.  


Peanuts and coconuts might not be considered traditional "cleansing food." But in their whole state, they provide something luxurious and allowed. The peanuts provide the dense crunch and rounded, toasted flavors that make this anything but restrictive. If you insist that peanuts are not cool or in the case of my friend, Roger, are deathly allergic to them, by all means, substitute. Almonds are awesome. Macadamias are even better.

The coconut plays more of a supporting role lending a hint of sweetness and the barest indication of its more often gawdy tropical personality. You have to use the unsweetened dessicated variety found in South Asian shops. Can't tell if the anonymous bag in your pantry qualifies? Ask yourself: Would I use this to make 7-Layer Cookie Bars? If the answer is yes, off shopping you go. Pick up a samosa while you're at it.

Color is key here. Peel the cucumber in such a way that the exterior has stripes of dark and light green. And use red chili for an eye-popping effect. This recipe is good straight from the mixing bowl and just as gorgeous after it's been hanging around a serving platter for a potluck. 


Crunchy Cucumber Coconut and Peanut Salad

1 large cucumber, peeled in sections, seeded and diced * 1 shallot, peeled and finely minced * 1 red chili, seeded and minced * 3/4 cup roasted peanuts (almonds or macadamias), chopped * 1/4 cup fish sauce * 1/4 cup honey * 1/4 rice vinegar * juice and zest of 1 lime * about 2 teaspoons grated ginger * 1/2 cup dessicated coconut, toasted (found in Indian markets; NOT THE SWEET FLAKY STUFF)

Combine the cucumber, shallot, chili and peanuts in a mixing bowl until it looks festive and appetizing.

In a small bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except for the coconut until well mixed. You've just made the dressing. Pour this into the larger bowl and toss all the ingredients together. Taste to see if it needs more salt (fish sauce) or tang (rice vinegar) or oopmh (chili or ginger).

Once ready to serve, add the coconut and mix well. Delicious on its own with a handful of cilantro. Wonderful as a side to poached fish, grilled chicken and other grilled meats.