This simple Asian Cucumber Salad is an easy summer recipe that comes together in about 15 minutes. A ginger-soy dressing spiked with chili paste, and plenty of garlic chives give this salad a vibrant flavor. Pair it with steamed rice and grilled chicken or fish for an easy summer dinner.
What is it?
Cucumber salads are a refreshing summertime vegetable dish. You’ll find variations on this dish throughout the world. Asian Cucumber Salads typically contain a few similar ingredients such as rice vinegar, soy sauce, chiles or herbs such as cilantro, depending on the flavor profiles of regional cuisines.
These salads tend to be refreshing, light, and pleasant to eat. Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and magnesium.
A Few Versions of Asian Cucumber Salads
Sunomono is a Japanese cucumber salad flavored with rice vinegar and soy sauce. It often contains seaweed, sesame seeds, and seafood such as crab or octopus.
Oi muchim is a Korean cucumber salad similar to cucumber kimchi. Recipes typically include soy sauce, rice vinegar, gochugaru, and green onions.
Thai versions of cucumber salad typically include shallots, cilantro, sugar, vinegar, and fresh chili.
Chinese recipes often include sesame, black vinegar, soy, and chili.
Kachumber is an Indian version of cucumber salad which also includes tomatoes, onions, lemon, and chili.
What’s in it?
The ingredients for most Asian cucumber salads include a source of acid, a source of salt, as well as additional ingredients for flavor such as seaweed, sesane, or chili.
In this version, rice wine vinegar lends acidity while soy sauce gives a little salt. Plenty of ginger and a good amount of garlic chives lend flavor, while chili paste contributes a good dose of heat.
- Cucumbers are the foundation of the recipe. Look for thin-skinned, sweet varieties such as Japanese cucumbers or Persian cucumbers.
- Rice wine vinegar, mirin, soy sauce and sesame oil make up the dressing. Rice wine vinegar gives the salad its acidity, while Mirin (a type of rice wine) lends sweetness. Soy brings both a savory quality and plenty of salt, while sesame oil brings it altogether. You can use toasted sesame oil for a deeper flavor.
- Sambel olek is an Indonesian chili paste with a pleasant, acidic heat.
- Fresh Ginger provides a fiery, floral component.
- Garlic chives bring a subtle onion-like flavor to the recipe, and you can swap in green onions or shallots if you can’t find them.
- Sesame seeds provide texture and a toasty flavor.
Tips for Making Cucumber Salad
As with most salads, this recipe is easy to make with a lot of room for swaps and substitutes. But, there are a few tips you’ll want to keep in mind when making it.
- Salt your cucumbers. Cucumbers are a watery vegetable and salting them in advance allows them to release some of that extra liquid. If you forgot this step, your salad will end up too watery.
- Peel the cucumbers if the skin is bitter, but you can leave the skin on otherwise.
- Use a mandoline to slice the cucumbers if you have one. It provides consistent thin slices. If you’re skilled with a sharp knife, you can get by without the mandoline.
- Adjust the recipe on the fly. It’s easy to make a few swaps depending on what you enjoy eating and what you have in the pantry. For instance, green onions work in place of garlic chives and peanuts work well in place of sesame seeds. Cilantro makes a nice addition, too.
Asian Cucumber Salad Recipe
This easy cucumber salad recipe takes inspiration from classic ingredients from Japan, Indonesia, and Korea for a simple, fresh side dish. It’s easy to make, and a delicious accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish.
Servings: 4 servings
For the Asian Dressing
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sambal olek
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- ½ cup chopped garlic chives
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
In a medium mixing bowl, toss the cucumbers with salt and then transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set in the sink. Let them sit for 10 minutes while they release excess liquid.
Meanwhile, whisk the rice wine vinegar, mirin, sesame oil, soy sauce, and grated ginger together in a small bowl.
Transfer the prepared cucumbers to a mixing bowl, drizzle with dressing, and fold in the garlic chives. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately or store in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Variations and Substitutions
If you can’t find Japanese cucumbers, try substituting Persian cucumbers. Regular cucumbers that you find at the grocery store as well as English cucumbers also work in a pinch, too, but remove both the skin and the seeds.
Zucchinis also work in place of cucumbers if you happen to have an abundance from your summer garden.
Any chili paste will work in place of sambal olek, including the mash left over from making fermented hot sauce. You can also swap in a few teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes.
Cold-pressed peanut oil works well in place of sesame oil, and you can also substitute refined avocado oil which has a neutral flavor.
If you don’t have mirin on hand, consider adding a little bit more vinegar and a pinch of sugar or honey to the recipe instead.
Apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or lime juice can work in place of rice wine vinegar.
Coconut aminos are a popular substitute for soy sauce.
If you can’t find garlic chives, try adding thinly sliced green onions to the recipe instead. Thinly sliced shallot or red onions are also nice.
Toasted peanuts are a nice addition in place of sesame seeds.
The salad will keep for about 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
Yes, this Asian-inspired cucumber salad is a great recipe to make ahead. It travels like a champ.
This Asian Cucumber Salad recipe is the perfect side dish for soy-glazed grilled chicken or misoyaki salmon and a bowl of steamed rice.
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