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I remember dining out at an Asian buffet with a several friends a few years ago. I was thrilled they had octopus salad. My friends thought I was gross. The baby octopus tentacles were too much for them. They were entertained, but more disturbed than anything else. I chomped down as much as possible for dramatic effect.
I spent many of my early childhood years in Hawaii, so trying weird and crazy things wasn't very, well, weird or crazy. Our traditional family meals are strongly focused on Portuguese and Italian foods with a New England influence. We grew up eating Japanese, Chinese, and Korean at home and in restaurants regularly. In fact, when traveling with my family, the new tradition is to find the strangest cuisines we haven't tried yet. Ethiopian, Indian, Thai, Peruvian, Nepalese—yep, I've tried them all. Ok, there are still several on my bucket list, but going AIP has brought a lot of my food experiments to a halt. Most ethnic foods contain lots of nightshades, and aside from corn and gluten, nightshades seem to be the one group of foods that I can't be even a little bit flexible about. I've had to cut back on eating out a lot, most especially at ethnic restaurants unfortunately.
Instead, I've been challenging myself to recreate dishes in the kitchen. Some are much easier than others, and some take just that extra little bit of inspiration. I was ecstatic when I found octopus at my local grocery. It's impossible to find octopus salad that's gluten free, and Tako Sunomono is definitely a favorite Japanese dish of mine.
This recipe is a perfect balance of crunchy & chewy and sweet & sour. The English cucumber is important; it's the long, skinny cucumber without the waxy coating and less seeds. You can substitute a regular cucumber, but it won't be the same texture. If you're against using sugar or sweets, then you can skip the honey, but it really needs at least some to give the dish the hint of sweetness and balance that is characteristic of the Japanese dish. And while, this recipe might look a little more complicated, it's very tasty and rewarding and a wonderful opportunity to try something new.
Cucumber & Octopus Salad
½ lb raw, whole baby octopus
1 English cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp sea salt
⅓ dried wakame seaweed, chopped into small pieces
3 tbsp coconut vinegar
1 tbsp honey or sugar (optional; use less or more to taste)
1 tsp coconut aminos
⅛ tsp sea salt
1 tsp sesame seed (omit for AIP)
Set a medium pot with water on the stove to boil. Meanwhile, push the head of the octopus inside out and make sure there are no internal tissue remaining. Put the head back right side out. Push down on the middle of the inside of the neck to push the beak out of the bottom of the octopus; you should see a little black beak poking out underneath in the center of the tentacles. Pull it all the way out. Clean all the octopodes (this is actually the correct form of octopus in the plural, in case you were wondering) the same way. Rinse and add to the pot of boiling water. Boil for 45 minutes. When the octopus is fork tender, remove from heat and allow the octopus to cool in its own liquids while you prepare the rest of the salad.
In a separate dish, sprinkle the cucumber slices with the tablespoon of salt. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place the seaweed in a bowl and fill the bowl with enough hot water to cover; set aside. Going back to the cucumbers, squeeze out the excess moisture from the slices, then rinse off all the salt, and squeeze again.
In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut vinegar, honey, coconut aminos, sea salt, and sesame seed (if using). Set aside.
Going back to the octopus, strain, rinse with cool water, and chop into large, rough chunks. Add to a medium bowl. Slice the cucumber slices into halves and add to the bowl. Strain the wakame, rinse with cold water, strain again, and add to the bowl. Pour the dressing over the top of the salad and toss well. Chill for 15-20 minutes and serve.
PS: Years later, my group of friends was still grossed out by the tentacles in my salad. And yes, I still chomped away for dramatic effect!