Smashed Cucumber Salad originated in China, but it's become a beloved quick pickle that's eaten across eastern Asia. Using a heavy object to smash the cucumber instead of cutting slices with a knife creates a rough surface with small cracks that soak up the flavors of the dressing like a sponge. This makes the prep a cathartic stress reliever while making the recipe come together in just a few minutes.
Here in Japan, this salad is typically seasoned with toasted sesame oil and soy sauce, but I like to add a ton of toasted sesame seeds to it, adding texture and flavor.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Smashing the cucumbers creates jagged edges with fissures that have more surface area for the sauce to cling to.
- Salting the cucumbers removes excess water from the cucumbers, which keeps the salad from getting watery while making the cucumbers crunchy.
- Combining toasted sesame seeds and toasted sesame oil provides a rich nutty aroma that perfectly contrasts the fresh green flavor of the cucumbers.
- Cucumbers - Cucumbers with soft skin and immature seeds work best for this dish. I used Japanese cucumbers, but Persian cucumbers, Lebanese cucumbers, or small English cucumbers will all work.
- Salt - Salting the cucumbers before adding the other seasonings allows osmosis to draw out excess water from the cucumbers. This helps keep your salad from getting soggy while transforming the texture of the smashed cucumbers from crispy to crunchy (like a pickle). For a boost of natural umami, try using my umami salt.
- Toasted sesame oil - Toasted sesame oil has a rich nutty aroma that gives this salad its characteristic flavor. It can usually be found in Asian grocery stores or in the ethnic food aisle of Western supermarkets. Another option is to use chili oil.
- Soy sauce - Soy sauce adds umami and a delightfully earthy flavor that compliments the sesame. Any dark Japanese-style soy sauce like Kikkoman will work.
- Toasted sesame seeds - Toasted sesame seeds add a marvelous nutty flavor and fun poppy texture that contrasts nicely with the crunchy smashed cucumbers. I used whole golden sesame seeds, but black sesame or white sesame will work, and you could also grind the seeds to release more flavor (though you'll lose the texture).
- Optional ingredients: I like adding chili peppers to this salad to give it some heat. I used dried chilies cut into rings, but red pepper flakes or chili powder will work. You could also use a chili paste like sambal oelek or doubanjiang. If chili peppers aren't your thing, black pepper also goes very well with cucumbers. I also sometimes like adding aromatics like grated ginger or garlic. If you like it a little more tart, try adding some rice vinegar or Chinese black vinegar. Finally ¼-1/2 teaspoon sugar can be added to balance out the salt and increase the perceived level of umami.
How to Make Smashed Cucumber Salad
Wash the cucumbers well and then trim the ends off of each one. If your cucumbers have large mature seeds, you'll want to split them in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop them out.
Use a rolling pin or other heavy object such as a rolling pin or meat mallet to smash the cucumbers into bite-sized pieces. If some pieces end up too long, you can use your hands to break them into smaller pieces. Add the crushed cucumber pieces to a bowl and toss with the salt. Let this sweat for at least ten minutes.
When the cucumbers have begun to go limp, use your hands to scoop them up and squeeze out any excess water. Drain the liquid from the bowl and add the cucumbers along with the toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds, and optional ingredients.
Stir everything together, and the salad is ready to serve.
Serve it With
This smashed cucumber dish is somewhere between a salad and a pickle and can be served as such, either as a side dish or as an accompaniment to go along with plain white rice. If you're looking for a main dish to pair it with, try my Japanese-style Mapo Tofu, Easy Chicken Teriyaki, or my Stamina Pork Bowl.
Other Cucumber Salad Recipes
- Sunomono (Vinegared Cucumber Salad)
- Hiyajiru (Chilled Cucumber Soup)
- Japanese Cucumber Pickles
- Cucumber Kimchi
- 325 grams cucumber (3 Japanese cucumbers)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- chili flakes (optional, to taste)
- Trim both ends off 325 grams cucumber and then use a rolling pin or other heavy object to crush the cucumber into bite-size pieces.
- Toss the cucumber with ¼ teaspoon salt and let this sweat for about 10 minutes.
- Once the cucumber has released some water and becomes limp, use your hands to squeeze out any excess water and transfer it to a dry bowl.
- Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, and chili flakes, and toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately.