I make this spicy asian cucumber salad at least once a week because it is so simple to throw together, has just a few ingredients, is super versatile and makes the most perfect, crunchy, refreshing side dish for so many meals! Try it with my Shrimp and Basil Stir Fry, Fried Rice For One or Curried Salmon with Coconut Braised Greens.
As part of my never-ending quest to create quick and easy small-batch side dishes, I present one of the absolute EASIEST cucumber salads you can make - spicy asian cucumber salad.
I truly make this at least once a week, especially in the summer months when a cold, refreshing salad is a must.
This one is so flexible I almost feel silly writing out a recipe, but let's talk about the beauty of cucumber salads!
The most refreshing side dish
Many cuisines have some sort of refreshing, cucumber salad that is eaten alongside a meal.
I grew up eating raita, which is a yogurt-based salad with chopped or grated cucumber, green chilis, cumin, salt and mint or cilantro. Sometimes you'll also find a plate of sliced cucumbers, red onion and tomato on the table. The cooling cucumber salads are perfect alongside spicy Indian food.
You'll find similar salads in Middle Eastern and Greek cuisine, with the most popular being Tzatziki. Cucumbers, greek yogurt, mint or dill, lemon juice and olive oil are combined to make a creamy, delicious sauce that goes perfectly with grilled meats and vegetables (among other things!).
This version is based on a typical smashed cucumber salad you'll find in Asian cuisine. Crisp, spicy and vinegary, this is one of my favorites to throw together on a busy night. So good!
What you'll need
Cucumbers: I like the small Japanese or Persian style for this dish, but an English cucumber works too.
Salt: Cucumbers definitely need salt, so you'll need it for flavor and to draw out some of the liquid if you have a little time to let them sit.
Rice wine vinegar: I like my cucumber salad super vinegary, but you can adjust to your taste.
Soy sauce: For extra salt and flavor!
Gochugaru: For this dish, I find Korean chili flakes taste best. But in a pinch, you can try replacing with a mix of the red pepper flakes you have and a little cayenne pepper.
Sesame oil: Just the tiniest bit adds so much flavor.
Sesame seeds: I love the extra little crunch sesame seeds give. If you have an extra minute or two, try toasting them in a dry pan before adding.
Optional: Sometimes I add avocado, which is amazing next to the spicy, crunchy cucumbers. Herbs are also great here - green onion, cilantro or basil are all good. You can also add a little grated garlic and/or ginger if you'd like!
The type of cucumber matters!
If you can get your hands on them, small Japanese or Persian cucumbers are perfect for this spicy cucumber salad. If you can't find those, you can use an English cucumber. No need to peel the skin!
I would stay away from a regular ol' cucumber because they tend to be TOO watery tasting (if that makes sense??). The thin-skinned cucumbers just have more flavor, so try and find them if you can.
You can cut the cucumbers however you want. I either do small rounds or cut them on an angle. For a smashed cucumber salad, gently smash each piece with your knife or the bottom of a drinking glass.
Putting it together
This one is so easy!
- If you have an extra few minutes, I'd suggest sprinkling the cucumbers with salt and letting them sit in the fridge for at least 10 minutes to draw out some of the moisture. No worries if you can't do it, but I find it makes the finished salad extra crunchy and refreshing.
- Then just add the rest of the ingredients to the drained cucumbers and toss to combine. Taste and add more chili flakes, vinegar or sesame oil to your liking.
If you don't love spicy food, start with half the amount of gochugaru and go from there!
Of course, if you want to make more than just one serving this recipe can easily be scaled up. Some of these photos show 2-3 servings!
Spicy cucumber salad "hack"
If I'm feeling super lazy or just want something spicy, but less vinegary, I sometimes just drizzle some garlic chili oil on sliced cucumbers. You can do this with your favorite store-bought or homemade chili oil.
You can even make this same recipe but just use the chili oil instead of the gochugaru. So flexible!
What to serve this salad with
I turn to this salad whenever I want something really refreshing, but with a lot of flavor. It goes great with Shrimp and Basil Stir Fry, Fried Rice for One, Honey Miso Salmon, Weeknight Chicken (especially the air fried gochujang chicken!) or Sheet Pan Chicken and Rice.
I make this spicy asian cucumber salad at least once a week because it is so simple to throw together, has just a few ingredients, is super versatile and makes the most perfect, crunchy, refreshing side dish for so many meals!
- 1-2 small cucumbers (~150 grams/5 oz), cut into chunks or rounds
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Gochugaru (Korean chili flakes)
- ½ teaspoon soy sauce
- ⅛ teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon sesame seeds
- Place 1-2 chopped cucumbers (about 150 grams) in a bowl and add ¼ teaspoon salt. Toss to combine and let sit for 10-15 minutes in the fridge. If there is any water collecting in the bowl, drain.
- Add 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon soy sauce, ½ teaspoon gochugaru, ⅛ teaspoon sesame oil and ¼ teaspoon sesame seeds. Toss to combine everything really well.
- Serve cold or at room temperature ( I prefer cold!).
- If you don't have time to let the cucumbers and salt sit, that's totally fine. You can mix up all the ingredients and eat immediately!
- You can find gochugaru at your local Asian foods store or online. If you need a substitute in a pinch, use a mix of red pepper flakes and a little cayenne pepper.
- This recipe is super flexible! Adjust the seasoning to your taste - more or less spice, less vinegar, etc. If you have a little extra time, toasting the sesame seeds is an awesome way to add some more flavor. I also sometimes add some avocado to this if I happen to have some around!