If I must choose my favorite thing to eat in the whole wide world, this humble dish is a top contender. There’s something about fresh cucumber doused with good vinegar, salt, sugar, and chile that transcends time and space. Add a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds, and I’m in HEAVEN.
And like many of my favorite foods, it’s a simple, common dish. There are a zillion recipes for Asian Cucumber Salad on the web.
Some call for soy sauce in the dressing (please no!) and some call for water in addition to vinegar (not essential but more balanced).
Some call for too little sugar and some call for too much. (To m palate, the perfect ratio of acid to sugar is 2 to 1.) If there’s a magic trick to this dish, it’s all about balance.
Naturally, with only a few ingredients to the dish, each ingredient must be perfect. I prefer firm English, Japanese, Kirby or pickling cucumbers because the skin is tender and the seeds are negligible.
For Asian Cucumber Salad, you want the look and the taste of the skin of the cucumber. And whole disks of cucumber (rather than crescent shapes with the seeds removed) are the prettiest way to present it.
I also prefer a naturally made, milder vinegar, such as a good rice wine vinegar. Although there are many types of rice wine vinegar available in Asian markets (black, red, white, seasoned, aged, Chinese, Japanese), the most common and all-purpose type is unseasoned white rice vinegar. It’s less acidic than Western distilled vinegars, with a milder flavor.
Head to a well-stocked Asian market near you and peruse the bottles of imported rice vinegar. Then select one or two to try at home.
My current all-purpose fave is Kokumori Aged Rice Vinegar.
Even the salt matters. A clean tasting sea salt is just the ticket. Or kosher salt. And of course taste any salt before you add it.
While not essential, a little spicy heat lifts Asian Cucumber Salad from mundane to magical. Korean hot pepper paste adds a subtle nuance, while Korean red pepper flakes add color and heat. I always have these two sublime Asian ingredients on hand.
Garnishes are optional, but I love a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. A hint of toasted sesame is the perfect flavor adjunct.
Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad
This pretty, zippy salad is almost always on hand at our house. I snack on it morning, noon, and night– always with chopsticks and often straight from the container while standing at the open door of the fridge. Need I say more?
Storage Note While the directions say that this salad can be chilled for up to several hours before serving, it actually lasts for days in the fridge. It may not be quite as perky on day two, but it’s still delicious.
½ cup naturally brewed rice vinegar
¼ cup cold water
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon fermented hot pepper paste
½ teaspoon Korean coarse powdered red pepper (or red pepper flakes)
1 long, uncoated English, Armenian, Persian, Japanese, Mediterranean, or other seedless cucumber, ends trimmed, and very thinly sliced crosswise (preferably with a mandolin) (about 12 ounces sliced)
½ cup julienned carrot, optional white or black sesame seeds (or both), lightly toasted in a small skillet
To prepare dressing, in a small mixing bowl, whisk vinegar, water, sugar, salt, pepper paste, and red pepper until sugar is dissolved.
Put the cucumbers in a medium mixing bowl, add dressing, and toss gently to coat. (Hand tossing is best here.)
Refrigerate at least 30 minutes (or up to several hours).
To serve, toss with carrot if desired, arrange in a bowl or on individual plates, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Makes about 2 cups.
More Asian-Inspired Dishes from LunaCafe
- Almost Luc Lac Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
- Asian Pancakes (Beijing Pancakes)
- Asian Potsticker Dough (for Jiaozi & Gyoza Dumplings)
- Asian Tacos with Prawn & Shiitake Filling & Cabbage Slaw
- Chinese Cracker Jacks
- Chinese Good Fortune Cookies
- Golden Fried Garlic Sesame Noodles
- Home-Style Chinese Fried Rice
- Phat Thai (Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Tamarind Sauce, Peanuts & Lime)
- Pok Pok’s World Famous Vietnamese Chicken Wings
- Pork & Prawn Potstickers (aka Asian Dumplings)
- Spicy Korean Noodle Soup (Jjambbong)
- Spicy Pork Wonton Soup
- Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce
- Spicy Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
- Thai Red Curry Paste
- Thai Red Curry Soup
- Vietnamese Chicken Salad
- Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- 7 Asian Condiments That Make Everything Taste Delicious | BuzzFeed
- Asian Cucumber Salad | Jennifer Chong
- Asian Cucumber Salad | Savory Sweet Life
- Cucumber Primer: Kirby, Gherkin. English & More | The Kitchn
- Japanese Cucumber Salad | Appetite for China
- Seedless Cucumbers: The Varieties To Look Out For | HuffPost Taste
- Thai Cucumber Salad | A Taste of Thai
- Thai Cucumber Salad with Roasted Peanuts | Epicurious
Copyright 2015 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.
Good thing I got more than one cucumber–that is amazing! Many thanks.
Susan S. Bradley
Judy, so glad you tried it. I’m also glad Costco sells 3-packs of English cucumbers. I buy local in the summer, but in the winter English cucumbers are really pricey in the grocery stores. I love having this on hand.
One of my favorite things at a local Thai place is a cucumber salad that looks like this! For sure trying this soon!
Susan S. Bradley
Laura, we are sisters of the pickled cucumber. LOL! 🙂
I love that you use the Korean pepper on this cucumber salad – I just tried it this week – so good!
Susan S. Bradley
Alisa, thank you. In retrospect, I should have given the Korean pepper a special shout out. Maybe I’ll jump back in and do that. I have since discovered Korean chili threads, which have similar flavor but are 2 inches long. Such a pretty garnish.