Cool cucumbers, hot chili flakes, and a generous amount of garlic are just a few of the ingredients that make this flavor-forward, Asian-style cucumber salad so good. It’s the perfect refreshing side dish, meal prep salad, or big-hit potluck contribution.
Now that I’ve harvested the last of this year’s cucumber bounty, I have to answer the question of what to do with dozens (literally dozens!) of cucumbers. So far, I’ve made pickles, tzatziki, and garden salads. I’ve used them for infused water. I’ve made cucumber gin & tonics, and cucumber moscow mules. But my favorite thing I’ve made? Without a doubt, it’s Asian Smashed Cucumber Salad.
WHAT IS ASIAN SMASHED CUCUMBER SALAD
(AND WHERE EXACTLY DOES IT COME FROM)?
Cucumber Salad is popular in much of Asia, and this version draws inspiration from Korean, Japanese, and (especially) Chinese variations. In particular, the smashing is a common technique in the Chinese varieties, which involve smacking the cucumbers with the side of a knife or a heavy bottomed pan in order to crack and split them slightly.
The benefit of smashing the cucumbers is threefold:
- It creates different shapes (which look nice and adds textural interest)
- It creates cracks and splits where the dressing can seep into more easily
- The cucumber itself releases more intense flavor than it does when sliced
Typically, all of the varieties of Asian cucumber salad involve a very similar ingredient list. Generally, you’ll find the cucumbers tossed with garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, and other seasonings. In this version, I also use hot chili flakes, sugar, and toasted sesame oil in the dressing, and then finish it all off with sesame seeds and green onions for added texture and flavor.
Trust me, the end product is more than just the sum of its parts. The spice, the crunch, the savoriness… you’ve just got to experience it.
PICKING YOUR CUCUMBERS
You can technically make this easy cucumber salad recipe with any type of cucumber, so use what you have on hand. However, sweeter cuke varieties with tender seeds and thin skins generally work best– this way you don’t have to peel or scoop out excess seeds when you make the salad.
For this reason, English cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers, and Persian cucumbers are my favorite options. I tend to lean toward Persian cucumbers as they’re the smallest and easiest to find, but any of the aforementioned cucumbers are good choices.
HOW TO MAKE SMASHED CUCUMBER SALAD
While there’s a smidgeon of wait time for this recipe, the hands-on portion requires only a few minutes of effort, and a few steps.
- Cut and smash the cucumbers. You can certainly just smash the cucumbers whole if you’d like for more craggy pieces, but I personally prefer slightly more evenly-sized bites. Not to mention, smacking the cucumbers whole can easily cause a big mess. Instead, I cut my cucumbers in half before smashing them with the side of a knife, and then I slice the cracked pieces diagonally to make small segments.
- Draw out excess water. Because cucumbers are composed of roughly 95% water, your dressing (and the cucumber flavor) can wind up really, well, watered down. To prevent this from happening, we have to draw out the excess water by salting the cucumbers generously and letting them sit. I usually try to keep them in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The excess water will flow to the bottom of the bowl. By the time you drain off the water, there should be at least 1/4 cup of it!
- Make the dressing. The dressing is super simple to whip together, so you can do it while you wait for your cucumbers to sweat or later after they’re ready– it will only take a moment. All you have to do is mix together raw garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and hot chili powder, and that’s it! Your dressing is good to go.
- Toss it all together & add the finishing touches. Once you’ve drained your cucumbers of the excess water, just toss them with the dressing and sprinkle over your toppings. You can get creative here, but I like to use sesame seeds and green onions, which add extra flavor and make the salad look beautiful as well.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH YOUR CUCUMBER SALAD
As you might suspect, this cucumber salad pairs best with other Asian-influenced dishes. Look for overlap in flavors like soy sauce, chilis, or sesame for sure-fire hits.
- Asian Steak and Shishito Skewers
- Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps (Larb Gai)
- 15 Minute Thai Basil Chicken
- Korean-Inspired Crispy Tofu Tacos
- Spicy, Crispy, Orange Beef
- Chili Garlic Noodles with Crispy Tofu
WATCH THE HOW-TO VIDEOPrint
1 pound thin-skinned cucumbers (persian or english)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili flakes
2 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- Cut off the ends of each cucumber, and then cut cucumbers in half lengthwise. Smash with a mallet, the side of a knife, or a skillet, and then halve lengthwise again. Slice the cucumber sticks diagonally into roughly 2” long sections.
- Transfer the cucumbers to a large bowl, add salt, and toss to combine. Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours. Drain cucumbers.
- Whisk sugar, garlic, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili flakes in a small bowl to combine. Pour dressing over cucumbers and toss well to coat.
- Refrigerate the cucumber salad if not serving immediately. When ready to serve, transfer cucumber salad to a platter. Sprinkle generously with scallions and sesame seeds.