Why Ontario Greenhouse Cucumbers are Golden + Spicy Cucumber & Glass Noodle Salad

Posted Mar 15th, 2020 in Marketplace, On the Farm, Recipes, Spring Recipes, Summer Recipes, Fall Recipes, Winter Recipes

Why Ontario Greenhouse Cucumbers are Golden + Spicy Cucumber & Glass Noodle Salad

This spicy cucumber salad packs a protein punch with the addition of crispy tofu, and the chewy, slurpy goodness of glass noodles makes it even more of a satisfying bite. Cilantro leaves are like baby lettuce, so there’s no doubt this is indeed a salad.

This post was sponsored by Foodland Ontario, which means I was paid to develop this recipe for Foodland Ontario. Sponsored posts help me to maintain this website.

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I remember how seasonal colour analysis was de rigueur when I was growing up in the 80s.

Maybe it still is but, as I sit here in a black sweater and blue jeans, a fashion choice made because those clothes happened to be clean today, wearing the colours that go best with my hair and skin tone is a little lost on me.

If memory serves, though, I was a summer. 

I’m certain I would also be a summer if there was such a thing as seasonal food analysis. The giveaway is that by mid-January I have insatiable cravings for salads, especially if they feature cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and sweet bell peppers supported by some salty feta, briny black olives, and a vinaigrette amped up with plenty of oregano.

It has nothing to do with resolutions or mea culpas for too many cookies and carbs over the holidays, though. It’s simply an overwhelming hunger for something fresh after months of cooking and eating winter squash in all incarnations alongside their trusty sidekicks, root vegetables. 

No offence to those stalwart storage vegetables that provide comfort and a long shelf-life as the weather turns and gardens go dormant. But peeling and cooking anything won’t cut it when the craving for a heaping bowl of fresh vegetables strikes.

Ontario greenhouse mini cucumbers
Ontario greenhouse mini cucumbers

Ontario greenhouse vegetables FTW

So what’s a mostly-locavore to do? 

The good news is, during the height of starchy vegetable season, glimmers of summery freshness abound at the grocery store. Ontario greenhouse vegetables — cucumbers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, potted herbs, even the occasional eggplant — are available to satisfy me during those salad days of winter and provide a reprieve from their heavier, must-be-cooked-first cold-weather cousins. 

Ontario greenhouse strawberries have become a fixture in stores in the last few years, too, which means it can be June on my plate even when the calendar says March. 

Of them all, it’s Ontario greenhouse cucumbers that I buy most often. Whether it’s the large, seedless English variety or the mini versions, Ontario greenhouse cucumbers are available year-round, which means they’re always in season. They’re also incredibly fresh because they’re grown close to home, so there’s no need to find my reprieve with imports that have travelled long distances and may not be in peak form by the time they get to me.

Ontario greenhouse cucumbers are grown hydroponically and with virtually no pesticides. That’s a bragging right that many conventional field-grown vegetables don’t have.

spicy cucumber, cilantro and glass noodle salad with crispy tofu

The benefits of Ontario greenhouse cucumbers

How do greenhouse growers do it? They use beneficial insects — good bugs that eat the bad bugs — to keep pests and disease under control with little to no chemical intervention. I will happily spend my money supporting Ontario greenhouse growers and their efforts to grow food that’s healthy for me and the environment.

I also know that every time I buy local, I’m having a positive impact on those around me, whether it’s supporting innovative growing methods that require fewer pesticides, or just enabling others in my community to make a living, grow their business, and create jobs to employ others. 

Mostly, though, I appreciate how easy Ontario greenhouse cucumbers are to eat because of their refreshing taste and easy preparation. Neither the large cucumbers nor the baby ones need to be peeled first thanks to their thin skins (that’s why they come wrapped in plastic). The fact that they’re seedless is another a bonus because it means there’s no need to remove their innards before using Ontario greenhouse cucumbers in recipes.

That includes dishes like this one, which was inspired by Asian flavours and ingredients, Chinese and Southeast Asian. This spicy cucumber salad packs a protein punch with the addition of crispy tofu, and the chewy, slurpy goodness of glass noodles makes it even more of a satisfying bite. The cilantro, its leaves plucked from their stems, is like baby lettuce, so there’s no doubt this is a salad, despite its heftier accompaniments.

Ontario greenhouse cucumbers: A salad essential 

This salad also checks all the textural boxes with the crunch and juiciness of those thinly sliced Ontario greenhouse cucumbers, the crackling skin of the tofu pieces giving way to their tender centres, and the softness of those translucent noodles. Everything is topped with crushed peanuts, a few slices of chilis and tied together with a gently spicy, rice vinegar and sesame oil dressing.

You can easily find Ontario greenhouse cucumbers, or other locally grown vegetables, by looking for the Foodland Ontario logo at the grocery store. It looks a little like a green tulip with the outline of a trillium in the centre.

The logo makes it easy to find what’s in season, but this handy availability guide helps, too. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in your usual supermarket, be sure to ask someone working there and let them know you’d like to see more local produce on the shelves.

And then use your purchases to make this spicy cucumber salad with tofu and glass noodles, and get a head start on summer.

Spicy cucumber and cilantro salad with crispy tofu and glass noodles

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves: Serves 2 as a main; 4 as a side

Spicy cucumber, cilantro and glass noodle salad This salad combines the refreshing crunch of cucumbers with crispy tofu and chewy glass noodles, their flavours brightened by tender cilantro leaves and a rice vinegar-sesame oil dressing amped up by Asian chilli oil. Skip the tofu if you’re pressed for time or looking for a lighter bite but those crispy bits are definitely worth the effort.

Ingredients

  • Half of a 350-gram package of glass noodles (see note)

For the crispy tofu:

  • 1 350-400 gram block of extra firm tofu, drained, pressed and diced in half-inch pieces (see note)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca flour or corn starch

For the spicy cucumbers and cilantro

  • 5 seedless Ontario greenhouse-grown mini cucumbers or 1 large seedless Ontario greenhouse-grown English cucumber, thinly sliced (see note)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed, dried and leaves plucked from stems (see note)

For the dressing

  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Asian chilli oil (containing crushed chilis)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar (see note)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped, to garnish
  • 1-2 Thai bird’s eye chilis, thinly sliced, to garnish (optional)

Instructions

Pre-heat oven to 400°F (204°C).

Cook glass noodles according to package instructions and set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, start on the tofu.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Drain tofu and pat dry with a paper towel or clean, lint-free kitchen towel. Flip tofu block on its side and slice lengthwise down the middle. To press the tofu, wrap tofu halves in a paper towel or a kitchen towel, lay the wrapped tofu on a cutting board, and cover with another cutting board or baking sheet. Place a cast-iron skillet or something heavy on top of that to squeeze out extra moisture. Leave the tofu to press for 20 minutes.

After pressing the tofu halves, dice into one-inch cubes. Transfer tofu cubes to a medium bowl and toss with canola oil, soy sauce and tapioca flour or corn starch until evenly coated.

Spread the tofu evenly onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 25-30 minutes, turning halfway through until tofu turns golden in colour.

Remove from oven and set aside.

While the tofu is baking, start on the spicy cucumbers and cilantro.

Whisk rice vinegar, sesame oil, canola oil, chilli oil, soy sauce and agave nectar in a large bowl.

Add cucumbers and scallions, and toss until combined and dressed.

Add the glass noodles, one small handful at a time, and toss. Make sure the noodles are well incorporated before adding the next handful. Repeat until all noodles are combined with the cucumbers and scallions.

Add the cilantro and toss until ingredients are combined.

Divide salad onto plates and, then divide crispy tofu between the dishes. Garnish with crushed peanuts and chilis. Serve immediately.

Notes:

Glass noodles are a staple at Asian grocery stores and may be labelled as sweet potato starch noodles.

Sol Cuisine makes sprouted tofu with soybeans sourced from Ontario.

If using a large English cucumber, halve it lengthwise, then thinly slice both halves.

I pluck my cilantro leaves by hand from the stems. It doesn’t add too much additional work to the process and ensures no woody stems get into the salad. If you’re pressed for time, you could chop the cilantro leaves instead. Save the cilantro stems to blitz in a food processor for chutney or to add to hummus.

I use agave nectar because it ensures the dressing is smooth. But if you’re in a pinch, white sugar works, too. Make sure it’s dissolved before dressing the salad. You may have to adjust the amount of sugar used to suit your taste.

by Tiffany Mayer

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