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This smashed cucumber salad is equal parts fabulously fresh and deeply savory. Inspired by a traditional Chinese dish, it’s equally at home alongside a perfectly grilled steak.

smashed cucumber salad in a bowl
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Why we love this recipe

Smashed cucumber salad (pai huang gua) has long been popular in China, with as many variations by region and chef as you’d hope. For years now, this genius technique has also been proliferating throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world. You’ll see smashed cucumbers dressed in all sorts of excellent accoutrements on a wide variety of restaurant menus.

As per usual, my version goes all-in on flavor. This vegan, gluten-free recipe has:

  • Bright, crisp, perfectly prepared vegetables
  • A quick and easy, punchy and satisfying dressing
  • Tons of fresh herbs
  • An extra layer of crunch from sesame seeds or chopped peanuts

Why it works

Here’s what makes this technique so magical.

  • Smashing the cucumber creates cracks in the skin and crannies in the flesh, while knocking out some of the seeds.
  • Sprinkling it with a bit of sugar and salt and letting it drain removes excess moisture from the flesh and tenderizes the skin.
  • Both of these moves allow the cucumber to absorb the flavors of the dressing and mingle with the delicious herbs and sesame seeds, creating a nuanced, cohesive dish.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • You’ll start with English or Persian cucumbers, which typically have tenderer skin and seeds than other varieties. They can vary dramatically in size, so use the approximate weight called for in the recipe card.
  • Use plain, unseasoned rice vinegar, which does not have added salt and sugar.
  • Toasted sesame oil (sometimes called dark sesame oil) has tons of great flavor and provides the backbone for the dressing. Don’t confuse it with light sesame oil, which has a lighter color and much less flavor.
  • Lower-sodium soy sauce has deep flavor without an excess of saltiness. If it’s important to you that this recipe be gluten-free, be sure to use a GF soy sauce variety (such as tamari).
  • Sliced scallions and chopped fresh cilantro leaves contribute freshness and flavor. You can use just one or the other if that’s what you’ve got, but I really love the combination and the abundance.
  • A sprinkle of sesame seeds or chopped peanuts adds a bonus layer of crunch right before serving.

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make a gorgeous bowl of smashed cucumber salad. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. First you’ll prep the cucumbers. Cut them into segments, halve lengthwise, and then smash with a chef’s knife, flat mallet or rolling pin.
  2. Stir in a bit of salt and sugar and let drain for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Make the dressing.
  4. Pat the cucumbers dry and stir to coat with dressing, along with the scallions, cilantro, and sesame seeds. That’s it!

Expert tips and FAQs

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

This dish is quick and easy to make and doesn’t require any cooking. I prefer to make it shortly before serving, since even drained cucumbers will continue to give off some moisture as they sit, watering down the dressing.

If you would like to prep the cucumbers in advance, you can leave them in the fridge, with the colander set over a bowl and tightly covered with plastic wrap or foil, for up to four hours or so before continuing with the recipe.

Dressed leftovers will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a day or two.

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smashed cucumber salad in a bowl

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smashed cucumber salad in a bowl
5 from 2 votes

Smashed Cucumber Salad

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
This smashed cucumber salad is equal parts fabulously fresh and deeply savory. Inspired by a traditional Chinese dish, it's equally at home alongside a perfectly grilled steak.
Prep: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
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Ingredients 

For the cucumbers

  • 1 ? 1/2 pounds, (680 grams) English or Persian cucumbers
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar

For the dressing

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes

To serve

  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds or 2 tablespoons chopped peanuts

Instructions 

  • T?o prepare the cucumbers, trim off the ends. Cut into segments three to four inches long. Cut each segment in half lengthwise.
  • P?lace segments cut-side down on work surface and smash to crack the skin, break down the flesh, and remove some of the seeds. You can use the side of a chef's knife and the pressure of your palm, the flat side of a meat mallet, or a rolling pin.
  • S?lice smashed segments on the bias. Transfer pieces to a colander, discarding seeds.
  • S?prinkle cucumbers with the salt and sugar, toss gently to coat, and allow to drain (in a clean sink or over a bowl) for 15 minutes.
  • M?eanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, make the dressing. Whisk together the vinegar, oil, soy sauce, sugar, salt, garlic, and chili flakes.
  • P?at cucumbers dry with paper towels and transfer to the mixing bowl.
  • T?oss to coat with the dressing.
  • S?tir in the cilantro and scallions.
  • T?ransfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the sesame seeds or chopped peanuts.

Notes

  1. You'll start with English or Persian cucumbers, which typically have tenderer skin and seeds than other varieties. They can vary dramatically in size, so use the approximate weight called for in the recipe card.
  2. Use plain, unseasoned rice vinegar, which does not have added salt and sugar.
  3. Toasted sesame oil (sometimes called dark sesame oil) has tons of great flavor and provides the backbone for the dressing. Don't confuse it with light sesame oil, which has a lighter color and much less flavor.
  4. Lower-sodium soy sauce has deep flavor without an excess of saltiness. If it's important to you that this recipe be gluten-free, be sure to use a GF soy sauce variety (such as tamari).
  5. Sliced scallions and chopped fresh cilantro leaves contribute freshness and flavor. You can use just one or the other if that's what you've got, but I really love the combination and the abundance.
  6. A sprinkle of sesame seeds or chopped peanuts adds a bonus layer of crunch right before serving.
  7. This dish is quick and easy to make and doesn't require any cooking. I prefer to make it shortly before serving, since even drained cucumbers will continue to give off some moisture as they sit, watering down the dressing. 
  8. If you would like to prep the cucumbers in advance, you can leave them in the fridge, with the colander set over a bowl and tightly covered with plastic wrap or foil, for up to four hours or so before continuing with the recipe.
  9. Dressed leftovers will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a day or two.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 89kcal, Carbohydrates: 6g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Sodium: 638mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 3g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Salads + Bowls
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

Hungry for more?

Subscribe to Umami Girl’s email updates, and follow along on Instagram.

Hungry for More?
Subscribe to Umami Girl's email updates, and follow along on Instagram.
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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

5 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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