In my childhood, during summer vacation in Thailand, I used to work so many random jobs to earn extra cash that I could splurge on Sailor Moon stickers. We weren’t poor, but my parents always encouraged me to work so I could learn something from the experiences. I used to work at a gas station. I used to sell snacks door-to-door. I used to cross-checked accounting work. I used to make mats from reeds, and oh my God, I used to collect the reeds from the shallow lake full of leeches. Yike! I used to go hunting and collecting forest products. And I used to harvest sugarcane, rice, tomatoes, chilies and cucumbers. These jobs didn’t just teach me about responsibility, but they were also so fun to be a part of. Well, except for the accounting work that wasn’t so entertaining… I think.
On the year that I was assigned to the cucumber farm, I made a lot of new friends. Many people were there to help so the hosts would return the favor and would help in their farms later. Some people like me, mostly kids and teenagers, were there to earn a little cash. This job wasn’t really in summer, but it was on the weekends of last few weeks of rainy season, just a couple of weeks before the sowing season of rice began in the same field. We collected sacks after sacks of cucumbers all day long. When the rain started to pour hard, we sought shelter under a small shack where we shared snacks during the break. It was a fun event. We had music played in the background, and people shared stories and gossips endlessly.
During lunch, we shared food cooked on the spot by our employers. Fresh fish from the nearby stream was grilled. Fresh bamboo shoots and field mushrooms were stewed. Every day, cucumber salad was made to accompany the rustic meal. I learned how to cook this salad by watching my hosts cook this dish countless time. At the end of the day, we got our payment and some fresh cucumbers. After that, I went home and made Cucumber Salad for my family for supper.
Isaan Cucumber Salad
200 gm fresh cucumber- cleaned, peeled and shredded
4 red chilies- adjust as per your liking
2 cloves garlic
1 tomato- roughly sliced
½ lime- juiced
2 tbsp tamarind water (soak a few pieces of tamarind in a cup of warm water)
½ tbsp sugar
2 tbsp Pla Ra (the juice of Thai Preserved Fish)— If you don’t have this, try canned anchovies.
Traditionally, we prepared this salad in a big mortar and pestle. But I don’t have those things here, so I use a strong steel bowl, and a pestle.
Add chilies and garlic in a bowl. Pound them together with a pestle to release the flavors and the aromas.
Add tomato and crush it a little. Do not over do it because we want tomato pieces to remain intact.
Add Pla Ra, sugar, tamarind and lime juice. Mix well.
Now add shredded cucumber and mixing it with the pestle and a spoon. You need to gently pound the ingredients to mix all them together.
Check the seasoning. The salad should be fresh, spicy, salt, sweet and sour. All the flavor at once. Serve immediately.
I love serving this cucumber salad with boiled duck eggs. Here I have some boiled chicken eggs to go with it. It’s so good and fresh.