Thai-Yunnan Style Cucumber and Chicken Salad (Yam Dtaengkwa Gai Jeen Yunnan)


This recipe for Thai-Yunnan style cucumber and chicken salad comes via sometime-Orlandoan Dylan Eitherong. Founder of the popular pop-up Bangkrak Thai Street Kitchen, Eitharong is currently in Thailand and offering cooking classes via Zoom. (Contact him via Instagram to sign up.) Thai-Yunnan style cucumber and chicken salad is just one of the recipes in our What Chefs Actually Cook at Home series; find the video on Facebook or Instagram and follow along.

Says Eitherong, “I learned this dish when I was studying under Thai food scholar Hanuman Aspler in Chiang Mai. During my two weeks there, I learned nearly 100 dishes, and this one stood out as particularly delicious. It’s almost not a Thai salad at all. Instead, it’s a salad eaten by the Yunnanese, whose many ethnic groups include the Dai, who long ago migrated to what is now Thailand and became – wait for it – the Thai. Northern Thailand has a sizeable Yunnanese population, so in cities like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, you may very well find some version of this. It’s a bright, slightly spicy, salty yet refreshing dish accentuated by citrusy spice notes from Mahwken, a Thai relative of the much loved Szechuan peppercorn. You won’t be able to find Mahkwen in Orlando, so you’ll have to use the latter as a substitute, which will officially make the dish Chinese.  While I’m a stickler for acknowledging the differences between the two (and all Asian) cuisines, it is interesting to see a dish such as this as an early blueprint for a culture of food now so completely unique.”

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Serves four

¼ cup dried Thai chili powder

pinch coarse salt

2 teaspoons Mahwken or Szechuan peppercorns, crushed or ground

about 10 cloves garlic, crushed

vegetable or neutral tasting oil

2 teaspoons thin soy sauce OR mushroom soy sauce (better)

2 tablespoons black vinegar

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

3 ounces cooked chicken breast, torn by hand into bite sized chunks (see note)

4 small pickling cucumbers cut into irregular bite sized pieces (see note)

¼ cup chopped cilantro and green onions, mixed

In a small heatproof bowl, mix the chili powder, salt and Mahwken (or Szechuan peppercorns). In a small pot or wok, cover the crushed garlic with enough oil to submerge. Turn the heat to medium and fry the garlic until just golden, stirring it often. When it’s ready, carefully pour the hot oil and garlic into the bowl with the chili powder, until the oil just covers it – you want a paste of sorts, with just a little extra oil –be sure to get all of the garlic incorporated and mix to combine. Reserve one tablespoon and save the rest as a condiment for your pantry.

In a bowl large enough to hold all remaining ingredients, mix the reserved chili paste with the soy sauce, black vinegar, sesame oil and seeds. Toss the chicken, cucumber, cilantro and green onions with all of the dressing. Serve right away, garnishing with just a few more sesame seeds if desired.

Note: In Thailand, the chicken would be simply boiled in water until cooked through, but grilling is great too, or even using a store bought pre-cooked chicken. To bump up it up a notch and add another level of flavor – as well as support his friends – Eitherong recommends using smoked chicken from Swine & Sons. It’s on their pick up menu right now, and Eitherong suggests using the rest for “almost anything you want to add delicious chicken to.”

Thai cucumbers are very firm and don’t contain much water, which is why Eitherong recommends the Indian or pickling variety (also known as Kirby) in the US. You can use the big European ones, but cut out the core if you do. With the cucumbers, you want small bites of the firm part, not as much of the watery core.