Smashed cucumbers are tossed in a simple soy and rice vinegar dressing for a refreshing side salad.
The cooling elements of this refreshing Chinese cucumber salad, pai huang gua, make it a perfect accompaniment for rich, spicy dishes. Smashing the cucumber into bite-sized pieces helps to release the seeds and remove excess water while helping the dressing adhere.
There are numerous versions of this simple Sichuan-style salad, some using whole dried chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, chili oil or black vinegar. A Korean version is made with sliced cucumbers and gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes). A Japanese version, called sunomono, is made with sliced cucumbers in a similar sauce and sometimes with togarashi (a chili powder spice mixture).
Key Ingredients in This Recipe
Cucumber – I prefer to either use Persian or English cucumbers for this Chinese smashed cucumber salad recipe. Persian cucumbers are thinner skinned than regular cucumbers and only about 6-inches long. They’re seedless so there is no need to remove the seeds after smashing them. They also stay firm and crunchy after sitting in the salt and sugar mixture and sauce. English cucumbers are thin skinned and smaller and have less noticeable seeds than American slicing cucumbers. They are larger and longer so you may need to quarter them instead of halving them before smashing the cucumbers.
Sesame oil – Sesame oil is made from pressing raw sesame seeds and has a toasty, nutty flavor. Darker toasted sesame oil has a stronger flavor and is great for finishing dishes like this one while light sesame oil is more neutral in flavor.
Rice vinegar – Rice vinegar is made through the process of fermenting rice. It has a much more mellow, less acidic flavor than other vinegars and perfectly complements the sesame oil and soy sauce base of this dressing.
Soy sauce – I use reduced sodium soy sauce so that I can control the amount of salt in the recipe, adding more if needed.
Garlic – The garlic is finely minced so it almost forms a paste to blend seamlessly into the dressing.
Red pepper flakes – Red pepper flakes can be made from any number of chilies but the jarred ones you find in the store are typically made from dried, crushed cayenne peppers. They’re used to add heat to a dish.
Salt and sugar – Letting the cucumbers sit in salt and sugar lightly pickles them while enhancing the flavor of the cucumber.
How to Make Smashed Cucumber Salad
Step 1: Smash cucumbers.
Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Add the cucumber to a large resealable plastic bag. Use a rolling pin to smash the cucumbers into bite size pieces.
Step 2: Let cucumbers sit.
Add the cucumber pieces to a colander and toss with the salt and sugar. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to let the cucumbers drain.
Step 3: Make sauce.
In a small bowl whisk together the rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic and red pepper.
Step 4: Assemble and serve.
Add the cucumbers to a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Top with the sesame seeds and cilantro and serve.
Tips and Tricks for This Recipe
Swaps and substitutions
Try swapping the red pepper flakes for gochugaru or togarashi.
If you are short on time you can skip tossing the cucumbers in salt and sugar and the draining process. It will take away some of the flavor but is a good shortcut.
I love serving this recipe as a vegetable side dish with these recipes: