Japanese cucumber salad is a refreshing and healthy dish that is a perfect side dish for any meal. The luscious crunch of cucumbers is combined with a perfect blend of spicy, sweet, and sour undertones in this delectable dish. This easy Asian starter, delicately seasoned and bursting with umami, will take your taste buds to the heart of Japan.
This wonderful salad comes together quickly, allowing you to enjoy its mouth-watering flavours in minutes. You only need a few commonly available ingredients, making it a great alternative for busy people looking for a delicious and healthful dish.
Furthermore, our recipe includes some quick variations, allowing you to tailor the dish to your preferences. Enjoy it as a refreshing side dish to your favourite meals or as a quick and guilt-free snack. Japanese cucumber salad, with its diversity and ease of preparation, is a must-try that will satisfy your senses and leave you wanting more.
What is it?
Japanese cucumber salad is an easy and refreshing side dish made from thinly sliced cucumbers, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Sunomono (酢の物), which means "vinegared food things" in Japanese, is another name for it. It can refer to a variety of vinegar-based meals, but it is most often associated with this Asian side dish.
On the other hand, namasu (なます) is a traditional Japanese dish that consists of thinly sliced vegetables, typically daikon radish and carrots, marinated in a sweet and tangy vinegar-based dressing.
The main difference between the two is that namasu is prepared from vinegared vegetables, whereas sunomono salad is created from vinegared vegetables and seafood. Sunomono is frequently used as an ingredient in other dishes, including Japanese sushi rolls, but namasu is typically served as a side dish. A dish is called sunomono or namasu, depending on how long it has been marinated.
Asian cucumber salad variations
The flavour profiles and seasonings of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cucumber salads range significantly. A sweet and tangy dressing consisting of rice vinegar, soy sauce, and a splash of sesame oil is typical of sunomono salad. The Korean cucumber salad is also known as Oi Muchim.
With the addition of chilli flakes or gochujang, garlic, and sesame seeds, it leans towards spiciness. Meanwhile, chilli oil, garlic, and vinegar are frequently used in Chinese refreshing starters. Each variety provides a distinct and delicious experience that reflects the diverse culinary qualities of their own cultures.
Japanese cucumber salad ingredients
To make our recipe, you will need the following ingredients:
Use small to medium-sized cucumbers with firm and crisp textures for this recipe. Look for ones that are crisp and bright green, with no signs of wilting or fading. Cucumbers with fewer seeds and more flesh are ideal for this dish since they provide a more pleasurable and soft eating experience.
However, the ones with more seeds can still be used. Just make sure these aren't overly mature so that they remain crunchy.
Japanese cucumbers work the best for this recipe. You can also use Persian cucumbers as both variations do not have large seeds.
If you can't find any of these variations, use an English cucumber instead, but scoop out the seeds with a spoon because the seeds contain moisture. The moisture will dilute the dressing.
Alternatively, you can also use pickled cucumber and make this a Japanese pickled cucumber salad.
In our opinion, the best choice for adding an authentic taste to a sunomono salad is rice vinegar. It has a mellow, slightly sweet flavour that blends well with the vegetable. If rice vinegar is not available, you can also experiment with alternative substitutes.
You can use white wine vinegar instead. White wine vinegar is a viable replacement because it has a comparable acidity and flavour profile to rice vinegar. However, you should keep in mind that white wine vinegar is tarter. So you may need to add a little sugar to the dressing to balance the flavours.
Another suitable option for rice vinegar is apple cider vinegar. It has a somewhat sweet and tangy flavour that would complement our recipe nicely. You can also use lemon or lime juice as a substitute for rice vinegar. However, these juices are more acidic, so you may want to add a little bit less of them to the dressing.
Sugar plays an important part in the dish by balancing the flavours and enhancing the overall taste. If you prefer a no-sugar refreshing side, leave out the sugar in the recipe. Sugar, on the other hand, helps to balance out the tanginess of the vinegar, resulting in a pleasant sweet and tangy dressing. It offsets the acidity of the rice vinegar and lends a touch of sweetness to the starter.
Sugar also helps to soften the sharpness of other ingredients such as soy sauce. Furthermore, the sweetness complements the vegetable’s freshness, making the dish more delectable and appetising. You can make our recipe with no sugar. However, keep in mind that it may result in a more noticeable tanginess in the Asian treat. You can adjust the tanginess according to taste.
You can use both table salt and rock salt for this sunomono recipe. Table salt dissolves fast and spreads evenly in the dressing. This ensures a consistent distribution of saltiness throughout the side dish. Because of its delicate texture, it blends nicely with the other components, increasing the overall flavour character.
Rock salt, on the other hand, has a coarser texture. This can provide a tiny crunch to the Asian starter. It takes longer to dissolve, but some individuals enjoy the texture and small bursts of saltiness it gives.
The choice between table salt and rock salt ultimately boils down to personal preference and the desired texture. Both salts will season the dish and add to its overall flavour, so use whichever you have on hand or prefer.
If you don't have rice vinegar, you can substitute it with mirin. Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine that is commonly used in Japanese cooking to provide sweetness and depth of flavour.
The mirin alternative will have a comparable level of sweetness and umami flavour. However, it may miss some of the particular depth found in true rice vinegar.
The overall flavour of the meal should remain balanced, and the sweetness will complement the tanginess of the vinegar, resulting in a tasty cold.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar offers a distinct fruity and slightly tangy flavour to dishes. In our recipe, it typically contributes a touch of fruitiness along with the required acidity. You can consider apple cider vinegar as a replacement for rice wine. Use the same amount of rice vinegar as specified in the recipe.
Substituting rice vinegar with apple cider vinegar will maintain the desired level of acidity in the side dish. Apple cider vinegar has a slightly milder taste while rice vinegar has a more delicate and subtle tang. The overall taste of the dish should still be balanced, and the sweetness will complement the tanginess of the vinegar. This Japanese cucumber salad with apple cider vinegar is a pleasant treat.
For an easy starter with chicken, you can use cooked, shredded chicken breasts or thighs. Add around ½ to 1 cup of shredded chicken to the salad, depending on your preference for protein.
Chicken adds a bit of protein and richness to the salad. The addition of chicken will bring a savoury and meaty element to the Asian side dish, enhancing its overall heartiness. The starter will be more filling and substantial, making it a satisfying meal option.
To add umami flavour to the sunomono recipe, use 2 to 3 finely chopped anchovy fillets or about 1 tablespoon of anchovy paste. Anchovies will provide umami depth to the Asian starter boosting its overall flavour and making it more savoury. The starter’s somewhat saline and fishy tone adds depth and appeal to individuals who prefer bold and robust flavours.
Japanese cucumber salad with crab brings out a delicious umami taste. Add around ½ to 1 cup cooked and flaked crab meat to the cold Japanese dish for a delicious seafood accent.
The addition of crab meat will give the side a delicate sweetness and seafood aroma. It will provide a more opulent and gourmet touch to the dish. Japanese cucumber salad with crab is ideal for special occasions or seafood fans.
To add a burst of freshness and colour to the refreshing side dish, dice 1 to 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes. Adding tomato will give the side dish a hint of sweetness and acidity.
The addition of tomatoes will make the dish more vivid and refreshing. It will also add a sour flavour. The Asian dish will be more colourful and visually appealing, making it a refreshing summer treat.
For a delicious and juicy addition, add 1 cup chopped watermelon to the Asian side dish. Watermelon will add a delicious sweetness and juiciness to the refreshing side dish. This complements the sharpness of the other ingredients. The dish will become a unique blend of sweet and savoury flavours. This makes it ideal for a cool side dish on a hot day.
Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons of sesame oil over the cold Asian dish. Sesame oil will give the side a nutty and fragrant flavour, improving its overall richness. It will give the dish a pleasant Asian-inspired twist. This makes the side dish more appealing to individuals who enjoy the distinct flavour of sesame.
Soak ¼ to ½ cup dry wakame seaweed in water until rehydrated, then cut and add to the side dish.
Wakame will give the refreshing side a slight saline flavour and a delightful chewy texture. The dish will take on a more oceanic flavour, providing a taste of the sea and giving the dish a unique twist.
Ways to Prepare Cucumber
The most traditional way to prepare cucumbers for our recipe is by slicing them into small circles. This creates classic rounds that are easy to eat and visually appealing. To slice a cucumber, simply cut it into thin circles. There are other ways to prepare the vegetable. Based on your preferences and aesthetics, you can follow these ways:
Most people prepare this refreshing side by slicing them into small circles, approximately 0.5cm thick. Slicing into circles ensures that the sweet and tangy dressing coats each piece evenly. It retains the crunchiness while still allowing the cucumbers to absorb the flavours of the dressing.
To achieve very thin slices of this vegetable, use a pointy knife or a mandoline slicer to cut it into thin, even slices. You can cut them about 1-2 millimetres thick. This method allows the vegetable to absorb the dressing more effectively, enhancing the flavours of the sunomono salad.
For diced variation, start by cutting the vegetable into thin rounds, then stack the rounds and cut them into small cubes. The size should be roughly 0.5 centimetres.The diced variation can add a lovely texture to the cold Japanese dish and provide bursts of flavour with each bite.
To make Japanese spiral cucumber salad, use a spiralizer or a vegetable peeler. You need to cut long, thin strips down the length of the vegetable. This method provides an interesting visual aspect to the refreshing side as well as a different tactile feel. The spiral cut method can improve the vegetable’s marination. This is because the surface area allows the dressing to coat it more thoroughly. This results in a more flavorful and evenly seasoned Japanese spiral cucumber salad.
How to Make Japanese Cucumber Salad
To make our recipe, you need to peel the cucumbers to show alternating green stripes. Cut the vegetable in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Then, cut into very thin slices using a sharp knife or a wide veggie peeler. Place a double-layer tissue paper on top and gently squeeze to remove any extra moisture.
To draw out moisture, sprinkle with salt and shake with your hands to ensure even salt distribution. Then wait for 5-10 minutes while it draws out the moisture.
Then, thoroughly rinse the vegetables. This is to remove the salt. Drain the water and squeeze to remove extra moisture. The purpose is to extract as much water as possible. Don't be scared to squeeze it hard. They can handle it.
Heat a small non-stick pan on low heat to roast sesame seeds. Stir in the sesame seeds until golden and aromatic, about 2 minutes. Place the mixture in a small bowl and put aside to cool.
Then, in a medium mixing basin, dissolve the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Toss in the vegetable and sesame seeds to blend. The best Japanese cucumber salad recipe is now ready. Serve right away for the best taste.
You can make our recipe ahead of time. You can make the dressing ahead of time and store it separately from the cut-up vegetable. To keep the side dish crisp and fresh, combine the dressing and slices right before serving. You can refrigerate the Asian side dish after combining the dressing and the vegetables. This allows it to absorb the dressing's flavour and become more soft. However, please keep in mind that the dish is best served within 24 hours. The cucumbers will become too soft after 24 hours.
How to Make Japanese Spicy Cucumber Salad
With a couple of extra ingredients, you can follow our recipe and turn it into a spicy variation. All you need extra is grated ginger, minced garlic, thinly sliced green onions and red chilli or red pepper flakes.
Combine the Japanese rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, grated ginger, minced garlic, green onions and red pepper flakes or chopped red chilli in a mixing bowl until well blended.
Add the vegetable slices to the spicy dressing and gently toss until equally coated. And your Spicy Japanese cucumber salad recipe is ready.
You can also smash the vegetable, add a little bit of chilli oil and cilantro to make this a smashed Japanese cucumber salad.
To keep this easy Asian starter crisp and spicy fresh, combine the dressing and slices right before serving. Enjoy the zesty kick of this delectable twist.
It's critical to use fresh cucumbers and not over-marinate them to keep the Asian treat crunchy. You must choose cucumbers that are firm and crisp, and slice them just before combining with the dressing. Allowing the side dish to remain for too long can cause the vegetable to release moisture and become limp.
To maintain the proper crunchiness, refrigerate the dressing and cut up veggies separately and combine only before serving if preparing the side dish ahead of time. Moreover, adding salt to slices pulls out excess moisture through a process known as osmosis. The salt absorbs the vegetable’s water over time. The result is a somewhat drier cucumber with a more concentrated flavour which will not make your Asian starter watery.
Not Enough Flavour
With just a few tweaks to your Japanese cucumber salad ingredients, you can improve the flavour of your side dish. First, add extra rice vinegar. Because rice vinegar is the key flavouring component in our recipe, adding more will enhance the flavour.
You can also increase the amount of sugar. The sugar will assist to balance out the acidity of the rice vinegar and add a sweet and sour flavour to the side dish. You can also add other flavour components, such as sesame oil, ginger, or scallions to the side dish.
Cucumbers are mainly water, and when they are cut and blended with other components, the water leaches out. To avoid this, salt the vegetables and let them sit for a few minutes to suck some of the water out before patting them dry. Or, as we do here, gently squeeze them between two layers of paper towels. Both procedures are effective, but utilising a double layer of paper towels helps keep sodium under control.
How to Store
You can refrigerate it in a tightly sealed container for up to 2-3 days. You can store the seafood varieties for 2 days and 3 days for the basic version. However, it may lose more moisture and the sauce may become diluted, so eat it as soon as possible.
Japanese Cucumber Salad Recipe
- Peel and slice the cucumbers very thinly using a knife or a veggie peeler. Place two layers of tissue paper on top and gently squeeze to remove excess moisture.
- Sprinkle the slices with salt and shake with your hands to evenly distribute the salt. Allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes to draw out moisture. Rinse the cucumbers carefully to remove the salt, then drain and squeeze out any remaining water.
- Roast the sesame seeds in a clean non-stick pan on low heat until golden and aromatic. In a medium mixing bowl, dissolve vinegar, sugar, and salt to create the dressing. Toss in the cucumbers and sesame seeds to blend. Serve the Japanese cucumber salad right away for the best taste.
- You can use pickled cucumbers to make your very own Japanese pickled cucumber salad.
- For Japanese spicy cucumber salad, just add on grated ginger, minced garlic, thinly sliced green onions and red chilli or red pepper flakes to the dressing.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and is only a rough estimate.