Spicy Cucumber Salad with Sardines

Source: Micki Seibel, January 2014

Source: Micki Seibel, January 2014

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Cucumbers with…sardines?

Yes. Salty with fresh.  Jalapenos with peanuts: the spice and the crunch. The lime: wrapping it in a citrus finish. This salad brings together a spicy, crispy blend of flavors that work surprisingly well together.

Most people that I know are adverse to canned fish (tuna being the notable exception). However, countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Italy have long traditions of canning fish. As such, many of their producers have been in business for generations carefully canning the fish by hand–sometimes while still on boat! This ensures a fresh and exquisite sardine that will blend wonderfully with this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber, seeded, quartered, and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 can sardines, drained of oil and roughly chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large, non-reactive bowl soak the chopped onion in the rice wine vinegar and set aside for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain any excess liquid from the onions and add the chopped cucumber, garlic, and salt and toss. Let sit for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the peanut oil in a medium saute pan. Add the peanuts, jalapeno, coriander seeds, tomatoes, and chili powder. Saute for 5-6 minutes. Set aside to let cool.
  4. Toss the peanut mixture into the cucumber-onion mixture to combine.
  5. Add the sardines, lime juice, and cilantro, toss, and serve.

How to Not Screw It Up

  1. Do not short change taking the 10 minutes to soak the onions in the vinegar. Raw onions have a very strong bite that turns off a lot of people. Even if you like raw onions, their taste will overpower the other ingredients in this dish. As such, by soaking them in vinegar (or lime or lemon juice) helps to break down the sulfur components that give them their bite. In cooking terms, you “macerate” the onions before using them raw in your recipe.
  2. Be patient and let the cucumbers, onions, salt, and garlic get their 20 minute rest. This goes a long way in helping to combine the flavors. The salt draws out the moisture from the onions and cucumber. This creates some very flavorful moisture that will coat the other ingredients as they are tossed together.
  3. Tips for finding high quality canned sardines:
  • Look for sardines from Spain, Portugal, or Italy. High quality canned fish is the cornerstone of their cuisine, and many families have been hand canning fish for generations.
  • Look for sardines packed in oil. In fact, look for sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil. If they are not oil packed, they should be packed in their own juices. The packing liquid is a big tip-off to the quality that is inside.
  • The more whole the fish the better. The sardines, minus the heads, should be whole and still in tact in the can. A sign of the care with which they were caught and processed.