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This Spicy Chinese Cucumber Salad is crisp and refreshing, sweet and fiery, but above all else, it’s a cinch to make!

Overhead view of Chinese cucumber salad in white bowl with chopsticks
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Many Asian cuisines have their own version of cucumber salad, but a lot of them lean waaaay into sweetness. Personally, I prefer this Chinese cucumber salad because it balances the sweet with spicy, garlicky, and savory.

How Spicy Is It?

If you make this cucumber salad the authentic way, let me prepare you: it’s really spicy.

The good news is that when you’re making this at home, you’re in charge, so you can go easier on the heat or even skip it altogether—although I wouldn’t recommend that because the fiery flavor is the best part, in my humble opinion.

This Chinese cucumber salad is also incredibly easy to make—just whisk together the dressing, toss it with the cucumbers, and let them marinate to spicy-sweet perfection!

Chinese cucumber salad in white bowl with spoon

What Is Cucumber Salad Made Of?

Well, that depends! There are so many different variations of cucumber salad across many different cultures, but here’s what you’ll need to make spicy Chinese cucumber salad:

  • Persian cucumbers
  • Kosher salt
  • Garlic
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice wine vinegar – Make sure you use the unseasoned variety.
  • Granulated sugar
  • Sesame oil – Toasted sesame oil adds a nutty aroma and flavor.
  • Sambal oelek – This Indonesian chili paste is tangy and spicy; you can usually find it with other Asian sauces at the grocery store.
  • Dried red chiles – Tien Tsin (also known as Chinese or Szechuan red peppers) would be the traditional choice here.

What Kind of Cucumbers to Use

I like using Persian or English cucumbers for cucumber salad because they’re less seed-y. You can really use any cucumber you like, but if you use a traditional cucumber, I recommend scooping out the seeds.

Slicing vs. Smashing: How Do You Cut Cucumbers for Salad?

I usually cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and then into quarters for this cucumber salad, but smashing cucumbers is another popular option for salads. If you want to try this, place a cucumber on a cutting board, then set a large chef’s knife on top. Hold the handle of the knife with one hand and with the other, smash down lightly until the cucumber is broken into pieces. If needed, slice through any large pieces or break them with your hands before proceeding with the recipe.

How to Make Spicy Chinese Cucumber Salad

Remember to allow time for the cucumbers to marinate when you’re planning for this recipe!

  • Drain off excess liquid. Place the cucumbers in a bowl with the salt and toss to coat. The salt will pull the excess liquid out of the cucumbers; after 30 to 40 minutes, discard the liquid and rinse the cucumbers.
Pouring dressing over cucumbers in glass storage container
  • Make the dressing. Whisk the garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, sambal oelek, and dried red chiles in a measuring cup. Taste and add more sugar, vinegar, or sambal oelek, if desired. (Note that the red chiles will add more heat as the salad marinates.)
  • Marinate. Transfer the cucumbers to an airtight container and pour the dressing over the top. Close the container and shake, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
Overhead view of white bowl with Chinese cucumber salad and chopsticks
  • Serve. Once the cucumber salad has finished marinating, shake the container again and serve chilled.

Why Do You Salt the Cucumbers?

Salting the cucumbers is an important step in making this Chinese salad. Why? Because the salt draws water from the cucumbers and as a result, they stay crunchy in your salad. The salt also adds flavor.

How Long Does Cucumber Salad Last?

This salad will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. If this seems long, you’re right! The vinegar pickles the cucumber, making it last longer than a typical salad.

Can I Freeze It?

No, cucumber salad isn’t a recipe that will freeze well. Since it lasts for two weeks in the fridge, there’s really no need to store it in the freezer anyway!

Serving Suggestions

Here are some of my favorite recipes for pairing with Chinese cucumber salad:

Small white bowl with spicy Chinese cucumber salad
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5 from 4 votes

Spicy Chinese Cucumber Salad

This refreshing and spicy Chinese cucumber salad is a great starter or side dish for any meal!
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Marinating Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 45 minutes
Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients 

  • 4 persian cucumbers, (you can also use seedless cucumbers)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons sambal oelek
  • 2-3 dried red chiles

Instructions 

  • Cut the ends of the cucumbers off then cut the cucumber in half, lengthwise then in half again, lengthwise, and then into quarters.
  • In a bowl, toss cucumbers with salt and let sit for 30-40 minutes to let liquid drain off. Rinse the cucumbers to get excess salt off.
  • In a measuring cup, whisk together garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, sambal oelek, and dried red chiles. Add more sugar, vinegar, spice, to taste.
  • In an airtight container with a lid, add the cucumbers to the container then pour the soy sauce mixture over top.
  • Tightly close the lid and shake!
  • Let marinate in the fridge overnight or for at least 6 hours.
  • Before serving, shake the container again to redistribute mixture.
  • Serve chilled.

Nutrition

Calories: 63kcal, Carbohydrates: 10g, Protein: 4g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 1912mg, Potassium: 152mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 7g

This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.

The default measuring system for this website is US Customary. Unit conversions are provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. While we strive to provide accurate unit conversions, please be aware that there may be some discrepancies.

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29 Comments

  1. Delicious! Tastes like home. I added some lao gan ma to the marinade, and that really tied it all together nicely. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I followed this recipe and my cucumbers soaked up the marinade within an hour. They were brown like the soy sauce and very salty. They didn’t look anything like the picture. Are you sure you didn’t reverse the amount of soy vs. vinegar?

    1. i’m sorry the photos were misleading. those cucumbers weren’t marinated long because aesthetically for photos, they needed to not be brown. i assure you though, this is a recipe that i grew up eating and my mom made it once a week in our household. they would always be brown. no other way around that, honestly. additionally, yes, i’m positive i didn’t reverse the measurements. 1/2 cup of vinegar would be extremely sour. did you use low-sodium soy sauce? perhaps try that next time or use 1/4 cup first to taste.

  3. Do you put the red chilis in the marinade whole or do you chop them up? Do you take them out of the salad before serving?

  4. What kind of soy sauce did you use? The spices were delicious, but I’m considering cutting down the amount of soy sauce the next time I prepare this. Love all the other ingredients, no doubt!

  5. Just wondering do the cucumbers get real mushy? Thinking I will half the recipe cause I’m the only one who will be eating it.

    1. The cucumbers will get mushy if you leave it in the refrigerator longer than a three days. On day two, you can tell they aren’t as crunchy as day 1 and so forth :)