Chinese Cucumber Salad
An easy recipe for traditional Chinese cucumber salad. A refreshing, spicy, cucumber salad made with smashed cucumbers, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili peppers.
I love simple side salads, and this traditional Chinese cucumber salad is the latest to grace our kitchen table.
It couldn’t be easier to prepare, and is a great accompaniment to shoyu ahi poke if you’re looking for a delicious no-cooking-required summer meal. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love that?
Persian cucumbers are smashed, salted ahead to release their juices, drained, then combined with rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and chili peppers.
It makes a refreshingly light, crunchy, flavorful salad that tastes better the longer it sits!
It is a gorgeous cookbook, which was recently nominated for a James Beard award, that is packed with more than 80 recipes inspired by Cynthia’s Southern and Chinese roots, as well as her husband’s Korean family.
You’ll find recipes for tea eggs, collard wontons, Korean spicy barbecue pork, steamed buns, and so much more, as well as dessert recipes for sticky sesame peanut pie to black sesame chocolate loaf cake. If you’re looking to expand your cooking repertoire, I highly recommend checking out a copy!
I’ve always been a huge fan of smashed Chinese cucumber salads, and couldn’t wait to give Cynthia’s version a try.
Chinese Cucumber Salad Ingredients:
You’ll only need a few basic ingredients to make this smashed cucumber salad. A great cucumber salad is all about balancing flavors: umami, salt, acid, and heat.
Since the recipe itself is very simple, I don’t recommend making any substitutions to the ingredient list.
- Cucumbers – this recipe calls for Persian cucumbers, which are smaller than English and other cucumber varieties. Persian cucumbers have a very thin, delicate skin (which requires no peeling), small, tender seeds, and lower water content. If you can’t find Persian cucumbers, I recommend using English cucumbers.
- Kosher Salt – proper seasoning can make or break a good Chinese cucumber salad. Season to taste, and don’t be scared to add another pinch or two of salt (and even a small splash of soy sauce) if the salad tastes at all flat. My cooking salt of choice is Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (affiliate link).
- Rice Vinegar – provides tang and acid. Rice vinegar is a pantry staple in Asian cooking, and I always keep a bottle in my pantry.
- Sesame Oil – sesame oil has a lovely unique nutty flavor that is integral to this salad. I use and recommend Kadoya brand toasted sesame oil [affiliate link]. It has a great, pure tasting sesame flavor.
- Soy Sauce – soy sauce, which is made with fermented soybeans, is rich in umami and very important to the overall flavor of the dish. I prefer to use regular soy sauce, as opposed to light soy sauce for maximum flavor.
- Red Finger Pepper (or Crushed Red Pepper Flakes) – the original recipe calls for crushed red pepper flakes. If you prefer to take it up a notch, I swapped these out for thinly sliced red finger pepper. If you’re sensitive to heat, feel free to scrape out the ribs and seeds.
- Fresh Garlic – feel free to add some microplaned fresh garlic to the salad. Raw garlic will become stronger as it sits, so keep this in mind if preparing the salad in advance.
- Toasted Sesame seeds – this is a lovely addition!
- Black Vinegar – if you can find it, black vinegar (aged rice-based vinegar) adds a lovely complexity to this salad in lieu of regular rice vinegar.
How to Make Chinese Cucumber Salad:
The first and most important step for preparing Chinese cucumber salad is to slice, smash, and season the cucumber pieces in advance.
Place each piece of cucumber, skin-side up, on a cutting board. Use the side of a large chef’s knife (or a rolling pin) to gently press and smash until they just split open.
Season the cucumber pieces generously with kosher salt, and allow the cucumber to sit in a bowl for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
Smashing the cucumber increases the surface area for seasoning and helps release the natural water content from the cucumber. Once you’ve seasoned and discarded any released water, we’ll toss the cucumber with the remaining ingredients.
Tip for Success: Allow the cucumber salad to sit for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour (or longer) before serving to allow the flavors to develop fully.
This cucumber salad will become more flavorful with time, so if you wish to prepare this salad a half day or day ahead, feel free to do so.
The cucumber pieces will become less crisp, but it will be more seasoned throughout! Thank you Cynthia for this beautiful recipe!
- 1/2 lb Persian or Kirby cucumbers, unpeeled(2 to 3 small cucumbers)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1 to 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (*I used 1/2 finely sliced red finger chili pepper, pictured)
- Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise, then into 1-inch pieces. Place the pieces cut-side down down on a cutting board. Working with a few pieces at a time, lay the broad side of a wide chef's knife or cleaver on top of the cucumbers, and carefully use the palm of your free hand to smash down lightly on the blade. The pieces should crack and split open, leaving more surface area for the seasonings to flavor them.
- Place the smashed cucumbers in a shallow bowl and sprinkle them evenly with the salt. Set aside until cucumbers release water, 20 to 30 minutes. (Persian cucumbers may not release much.)
- When the cucumbers are done brining, drain off any water that has collected. Stir in 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce, and red pepper flakes (or red finger chili pepper slices) if using. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. Let sit at room temperature or in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes to 1 hour (*note: the salad will taste better with more time, so if time allows, refrigerate and marinate for 6 hours or longer) to let the flavors develop.
Reprinted with permission from A Common Table by Cynthia Chen McTernan (Rodale, 2018).
Tips for Success:
- Fresh Garlic - feel free to add some microplaned fresh garlic to the salad. Raw garlic will become stronger as it sits, so keep this in mind if preparing the salad in advance.
- Toasted Sesame seeds - this is a lovely addition!
- Black Vinegar - if you can find it, black vinegar (aged rice-based vinegar) adds a lovely complexity to this salad in lieu of regular rice vinegar.
- If using larger, thicker-skinned cucumbers, feel free to peel them.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 3 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 45Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 454mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 1g