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Chinese Cucumber Salad is cool, crunchy, spicy, and sweet and, with just 8 ingredients, it's fast and easy to prepare. A satisfying vegan salad of complex flavors that are just right for rounding out a meal.
You'll smash and dice cucumbers then toss them in a tongue tingling dressing that clings to every ragged edge. A blend of Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar), sesame oil, sichuan chile oil, kosher salt, and a touch of sugar. Adorn with a shower of toasted sesame seeds and fresh cilantro and your salad is ready to serve.
Ingredients You Need to Make Chinese Cucumber Salad
- Cucumber: Thin skinned English or Persian cucumbers work well for this salad. If you use a thick skinned cucumber, be sure to peel it first.
- Kosher Salt: I use Diamond Crystal brand. If you use Morton brand, reduce the amount by half.
- Chinkiang Vinegar: Ideally Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar), or rice vinegar in a pinch.
- Sichuan Chili Oil: The tongue tingling spice of sichuan chili oil is ideal for this dressing, but feel free to swap in any chili oil you have on hand.
- Sesame Oil: regular (not toasted) sesame oil
- Sugar: Granulated sugar or less processed Turbinado sugar work well.
- Toasted Sesame Seeds: for finishing (If you have raw sesame seeds, see recipe notes for toasting instructions.)
- Fresh Cilantro: for finishing
How to Smash Cucumbers
Smashing cucumbers releases natural liquids and creates a ragged surface that's perfect for dressing. You have a lot of options here, some messier than others.
To smash cucumbers with a traditional approach, position on a cutting board and give them several hearty whacks with a cleaver, chef's knife, heavy skillet (ideally a small one), or even a rolling pin until they crack and split. To make this a cleaner process, you can cut the cucumber into a few large pieces crosswise and put them in a heavy plastic bag before smashing.
I prefer a less dramatic approach and slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise, set them cut-side down on a cutting board and press firmly with the side of a large knife until they crack and split. Your choice. The key is to end up with lots of jagged edges for the dressing to coat.
You'll find smashed cucumber salad recipes that call for Chinkiang vinegar and rice vinegar interchangeably. I tested this recipe with both and found the Chinese black vinegar version undeniably superior (here's the brand I used). That said, if unseasoned rice vinegar is what you have on hand, feel free to use it.
Tossing the cucumber slices with kosher salt extracts some of their liquid and seasons them as well. If you taste the salad and want it to be a bit saltier, a splash of soy sauce (or light soy sauce) is a great choice. If you're avoiding gluten, be sure to look for a gluten free version.
To kick up the spice in this salad, add more chili oil or a hearty pinch of red pepper flakes.
This makes a refreshing appetizer or side to most noodle or rice dishes or anything you're grilling. Here are some of my favorite pairings:
- Grilled Tuna Steaks
- Soba Noodle Bowl
- Cauliflower Fried Rice
- Ramen Noodle Stir Fry
- Three Cup Chicken
- Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
How to Make Chinese Cucumber Salad
Step 1: Smash cucumbers until they crack and split, then cut crosswise into ¾-inch slices. Toss with salt in a colander set inside a bowl and chill 15 minutes.
Step 2: Meanwhile, whisk together dressing ingredients (vinegar, chili oil, sesame oil, and sugar) until emulsified.
Step 3: After pouring out any liquid that has accumulated, transfer cucumbers to bowl. Pour dressing over and toss to coat. Divide among 4 plates; sprinkle with sesame seeds and cilantro and serve.
Chinese Cucumber Salad
- 1 large English cucumber or 4-5 Persian cucumbers, about 1 pound
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar) or rice vinegar (recipe note #1)
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan chili oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar or turbinado sugar
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (recipe note #1)
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
- On a large cutting board, slice cucumber in half lengthwise and place them cut-side down. Using a large chef's knife or cleaver, press firmly on the cucumber halves until cracked and broken in several places. (If you want to get some aggression out, you can also whack the cucumbers with a cleaver or even a heavy skillet.) Cut smashed cucumbers crosswise into ¾-inch slices and transfer to colander set inside a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and toss to coat; refrigerate 15 minutes.
- While cucumbers drain, make dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, chili oil, sesame oil, and sugar until sugar dissolves and dressing is emulsified.
- After 15 minutes, remove cucumbers from refrigerator and discard accumulated liquid. Transfer cucumbers to same bowl. Drizzle dressing over cucumbers and toss to coat. Divide among 4 plates or transfer to platter. Garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro; serve.
- Though rice vinegar works in a pinch, Chinkiang vinegar is worth seeking out!
- To toast raw sesame seeds, cook and stir in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes until lightly brown and fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl immediately to keep from over-browning.