liangbanhuangguaFinding suitable Asian dishes can be difficult for people following a specific eating style such as vegetarian, vegan, or paleo.  Many Asian dishes have just a little bit of meat of in them, which, at least in China, they insist doesn’t affect the vegetarian nature of the dish since its so small–hah! And it can be challenging for Paleo followers because of the heavy use of peanut oil and soy products, and added sugar, all of which are typically banned on Paleo.

One of my favorite appetizers from living in China is 凉拌黄瓜 liang ban huanggua, literally cold smacked cucumbers–a healthy, refreshing, and crunchy way to start a meal.  Unfortunately, it is typically made with sugar and peanut oil, and sometimes soy sauce. Well, I’ve devised my own tasty alternative, which is still pretty authentic (so I’ve been told), that is totally vegan and paleo compliant.

Ingredients for 凉拌黄瓜

I’m not putting amounts because I typically just go by taste and appearance, which you can adjust depending on how sour, spicy, or rich you like your food.

  • Cucumbers, washed and ends cut off
  • Garlic, peeled and chopped
  • Fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (or sliced like thin matchsticks for presentation)
  • Vinegar, choose white or Chinese rice wine vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Chili oil (can be omitted, but compensate with peanut oil or extra sesame oil, and more pepper)
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Flower pepper (花椒 hua jiao), for its numbing effect.  If you can’t find this, a dash of cayenne will do
  • Pinch of salt, optional, to bring out the other flavors


Lay the cleaned cucumbers on a cutting board and using the flat side of a large knife or meat cleaver, smack the cucumber, being careful not to smack your knuckles in the process. You may need to chop the cucumber into chunks. Repeat for all the cucumbers. The smacking method opens up the core to better allow the flavors to percolate in.

Place cucumbers in a dish deep enough to cover them all.  Add garlic and ginger, pour oils and vinegar on, and finally sprinkle pepper flakes and flower pepper.  If you prefer a richer dish, use more sesame oil, for more sour flavor go heavy on the vinegar, and of course, you can spice it up with chili oil, pepper flakes, and flower pepper.

If the oil and vinegar don’t cover all the cucumbers, you may want to add some water so the cucumbers can get access to all the flavors. Toss well and allow to sit for at least 24 hours before serving for a stronger flavor.

Chinese 5 Flavors

In Chinese Element Theory there are 5 flavors:

  • sweet,
  • sour,
  • bitter,
  • salty, and
  • pungent.

This dish nearly hits on all 5 of those, making it one of the most well-rounded dishes in terms of flavor profile, so essential in Chinese medicine. Sweet comes from the sesame oil, sour from the vinegar, bitter from the cucumbers, pungent from the garlic, ginger, and pepper, and depending on how much salt you add, you may get a hint of salty flavor.

Another good reason to have this dish as an appetizer? In Chinese medicine, bitter flavor, (as of cucumbers), is thought to increase satiety, curb appetite, and thus lead to weight loss.

How do you modify dishes to make them suit your dietary requirements?