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Spicy Cucumber Salad

Spicy Cucumber Salad is a refreshing and flavorful side dish made of cooling fresh cucumbers spiked with chili crisp and other seasonings. It’s crunchy and light, but also packed with the intense flavors of chili crisp, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and garlic. 

Close up, low angle shot of a bowl of spicy cucumber salad in a black bowl.

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This Chinese spicy cucumber salad uses an interesting technique. The cucumbers are smashed so that they crack into pieces with craggy edges. Smashing the cucumbers is great because it gives them uneven edges that hold the flavorful chile-garlic-soy dressing.

Why you’ll love this Spicy Cucumber Salad

Obviously, you’ll love the flavor of this salad—it’s intense with chiles, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and raw garlic. But that’s just the beginning.

Both cucumbers and chiles are thought to help keep you feeling cool in hot weather. The cucumbers are super hydrating. The spiciness of the chiles makes you sweat, which cools you off through evaporation, which is why spicy food is so popular in hot places!

Smashing the cucumbers is a technique that’s used in a lot of Asian recipes. It’s used in China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian cultures. It makes the edges of the cucumber craggy and uneven. Those crags are perfect for catching the dressing and holding it until it absorbs into the crisp cucumber

After slicing and chopping the cucumber, we salt it and let it stand to release excess water. This helps to intensify the flavors of the dressing by preventing the salad from becoming watery.

After letting it stand with the salt, you’ll see water pooled in the bowl. Drain the cucumber in a colander before adding the dressing. Don’t bother to rinse off the salt.

Finally, after tossing the cucumbers and dressing together, the salad is chilled. This way, when you finally eat it, the cucumber chunks are crisp and juicy and the combination is super refreshing.

Overhead shot of a black bowl filled with spicy cucumber salad with some oranges on the side.

How to smash cucumbers

Not to worry if you’ve never smashed a cucumber before. It’s easy!

I like to trim the ends off the cucumber and then slice it down the middle lengthwise. Place the halves on a cutting board, cut side down. Place the blade of a chef’s knife of cleaver on its side on top of a cucumber half. Next, use the heel of your hand to smack it against the cucumber.

This technique is similar to how I break the skin on a garlic clove to peel it. I’ve seen people put the cucumber in a plastic bag before smashing to contain any bits, but honestly, I think that is overkill. You don’t want to pound on the cucumber or pulverize it. You just want to crack it and break it down a bit.

Once you finish smashing the cucumbers, slice them into ½-inch-thick slices and transfer them to a bowl. Now you’re ready for salting.

What type of cucumber to use?

The ideal type of cucumber for this Spicy Cucumber Salad is a Japanese cucumber. These are long and thin with tender seeds and thin skins. I like them because they are a bit less watery than English or Persian cucumbers, and they have great flavor.

Persian cucumbers are my second choice for this salad. They are small and also have tender seeds and thin skins.

If you can’t find Japanese or Persian cucumbers, English cucumbers are a good backup. They are larger than either of the other two, but their skins and seeds are nice and tender.

English cucumbers have a bit more water, so you may need to let stand with the salt for a little longer and drain them really well. You might also want to scoop out the seeds before smashing and slicing them as that will reduce the water content a bit.

Overhead shot of the ingredients needed to make spicy cucumber salad.

Ingredients you need

For the complete list of ingredients with quantities and detailed prep and cooking instructions, please see the recipe card that appears at the end of this post.

The list of ingredients for this Spicy Cucumber Salad recipe is pretty short. Several of the ingredients are staples in a Chinese pantry and can be found in an Asian market or online if you can’t get them in your regular supermarket. Here’s what you need to make this cucumber salad recipe:

  • Cucumbers—I like to use Persian or Japanese cucumbers or cucumbers, but English cucumbers work, too. Or look for other mini cucumbers with thin skins.
  • Salt—I use coarse kosher salt. Salt is key for drawing excess water out of the cucumbers.
  • Garlic—Fresh minced garlic gives a nice bite to the dressing.
  • Rice vinegar—Use unseasoned rice vinegar for this recipe.
  • Soy sauce—I use regular soy sauce here. If you want to use lower-sodium soy sauce, that’s fine, but you may need to add additional salt to balance the flavors.
  • Chili crisp—This is one of my all-time favorite condiments. It’s made by steeping crushed, dried chiles in hot oil and adding savory ingredients like dried mushrooms, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, Szechuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, crispy fried shallots and garlic, and often a touch of sugar. You can make your own or buy jars of it in many supermarkets or Asian markets. Of course, you can also buy chili crisp online.
  • Fermented black beans—These are optional, but I love the salty, tangy flavor they add. Some brands of chili crisp include fermented beans (also called salted black beans), so if yours does, no need to add extras. You can buy fermented black beans online or in Asian markets.
  • Sugar—A spoonful of granulated sugar balances the salty, spicy flavors of the dressing.
  • Sesame oil—For the best flavor, be sure to buy a brand that uses pure sesame oil and not a blend.
  • Peanuts or sesame seeds—These are an optional garnish. I love to use crunchy dry roasted peanuts here, but toasted sesame seeds work well, too. They add a nice extra bit of crunch and a toasty, nutty flavor. 

How to make it

For the complete list of ingredients with quantities and detailed prep and cooking instructions, please see the recipe card that appears at the end of this post.

This Chinese Spicy Cucumber Salad recipe is super easy to make. Smashing the cucumbers is the funnest part. Here are the steps:

  1. Trim the ends off the cucumbers and halve them lengthwise.
  2. Smash the cucumbers using the side of a chef’s knife or cleaver.
  3. Slice the cucumber into ½-inch-thick slices.
  4. Sprinkle salt over the cucumbers and let stand for about 10 minutes to pull excess water out. Drain the cucumbers, but don’t rinse the salt off.
  5. While the cucumbers are draining, mix the dressing ingredients together.
  6. After draining the cucumbers, c0mbine them in a large bowl with the dressing and toss to mix well.
  7. If you have time, chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so.
  8. Just before serving, garnish with peanuts or sesame seeds, if using.
  9. Serve cold.
overhead shot of spicy cucumber salad in a black bowl.

What to serve with spicy cucumber salad

This refreshing and spicy smashed cucumber salad makes a great side to roasted or grilled meats or fish. It’s also great as a snack on its own or with a bowl of steamed rice. I often serve it alongside dim sum dumplings like Har Gow or Char Siu Bao.

I also like to serve this simple Chinese cucumber salad with Char Siu, Instant Pot Ribs, Crispy Chilli Beef, Kung Pao Chicken, Pork Fried Rice, or Singapore Noodles.

If you’re interested in trying other Asian cucumber salad recipes, check out my Sunomono or Japanese Cucumber Salad and my Korean Quick Cucumber Kimchi.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Spicy Cucumber Salad

Close-up, low-angle shot of a bowl of Chinese cucumber salad.

Spicy Cucumber Salad is a refreshing and flavorful side dish made of cooling fresh cucumbers spiked with chili crisp and other seasonings. It’s crunchy and light but also packed with the intense flavors of chili crisp, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and garlic.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Additional Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 to 6 small cucumbers, ends trimmed
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili crisp
  • 2 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed (optional)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped peanuts or toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions

  1. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise. Put them cut side down on a
    cutting board and then smash them using the side of the blade of your chef’s knife. The idea is to crack them, but not to pulverize them. Slice the smashed cucumber halves into pieces about ½-inch thick. Transfer the slices to a medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle the salt over the cucumber slices and toss to mix. Let stand for about 10 minutes, and then drain them in a colander to remove the water that has collected in the bowl (do not rinse the cucumbers).
  3. In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, chili crisp, fermented black beans, if using, sugar, and sesame oil. Stir to mix well.
  4. Toss the dressing with the cucumbers and let stand for 15 minutes (or longer), ideally in the refrigerator, to allow the cucumbers to absorb the dressing.
  5. Serve garnished with chopped peanuts or sesame seeds, if desired.
  6. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Notes

This salad gets even better after it's refrigerated for a day.

It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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Nutrition Information

Yield

6

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 117Total Fat 6gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 5gCholesterol 1mgSodium 646mgCarbohydrates 14gFiber 2gSugar 4gProtein 4g

Nutrient values are estimates only. Variations may occur due to product availability and manner of food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

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By on May 11th, 2022

About Robin Donovan


Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 40 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners, 5 Ingredient Cooking for Two, Sushi at Home, The Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and other popular publications.

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