Cucumber salad recipes vary across countries and cultures, but the Chinese version typically gets savoriness and umami from soy sauce, tang from rice vinegar, and sweetness from a bit of sugar. Fragrant garlic and sesame oil round out the flavors. Depending on regional and personal preferences, recipes might also include chili and peppercorns for heat, or scallions, cilantro, or other herbs for freshness.
This recipe takes inspiration from Japan and swaps out the soy sauce for soba tsuyu, a soy sauce-based dipping sauce for soba noodles, for a stronger hit of umami. (Soy sauce still works just as well.)
It also takes the extra step of making a garlic-infused oil, which mellows the sharpness of the raw garlic. It only takes a minute on the stovetop—and you can make extra to keep in the fridge, to add instant garlicky flavor to future dishes—but if you can’t be bothered to turn on the heat, you can simply mix the garlic in raw.
Feel free to play with the recipe based on what you have and like. For a more substantial but still light and refreshing dish, try adding ribbons of thinly sliced fresh tofu skin (dou fu pi, also known as yuba in Japanese).
But however you play with the recipe, here’s its non-negotiable secret: smash the cucumbers before you dress them. The rough, craggly edges you create will better absorb the sauce than slippery straight-cut edges, resulting in a much more flavorful salad.
5-Minute Chinese Cucumber Salad
Prep Time: 4 minutes
Cook Time: 1 minute
- 1 small (8-ounce) English cucumber
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon soba tsuyu soup base, or soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Cut off the ends of the cucumber and cut it in half crosswise. Then, quarter each half lengthwise, so you have 8 long spears. Lay the spears cut side-up and carefully use the flat side of your knife to slightly smash them. Chop the spears into 1/2-inch pieces and transfer to a large bowl.
To make the garlic oil, add the vegetable oil and minced garlic to a small pan over low heat. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Add the salt, sugar, soba tsuyu soup base, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic oil to the cucumbers. Mix well and serve immediately.
Recipe by CiCi Li, the producer and presenter of “CiCi’s Food Paradise” on NTD. Join her in discovering the world of Asian home cooking at CiCiLi.tv