Thai Cucumber Salad – This fresh, light cucumber salad is the perfect cool complement to warm weather or a spicy meal. You’ll love the dressing! (Gluten free, vegan)
I’ve been listening to the book Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl and her writing feels like talking to a good friend. The way she talks about tastes, textures, and the constant pull to try new foods fills me up and leaves me hungry at the same time.
Since I was in my teens, that pull to try new things in the kitchen has been with me. I love experimenting with new techniques, tasting different varieties of fruits and veggies I find at the store, and reading cookbooks cover to cover like novels. It’s just IN me.
This Thai-inspired cucumber salad is that kind of recipe that fills up my little foodie heart. It’s reminiscent of refrigerator pickles but with a tangy, slightly spicy twist. It’s got color and crunch, and pops of different flavors–bright tang from the vinegar, a subtle sweetness from the chili sauce, a bit of saltiness, and then a little kick at the end to balance things out. It’s fresh and light and the perfect accompaniment to all sorts of my favorite dishes–Butter Chicken, Chicken Satay, Chicken Tikka Masala, and so much more.
What’s in Thai Cucumber Salad?
The beauty of this salad is that it comes together basically as as fast as you can slice cucumbers. The dressing takes 2 minutes, and the other salad add-ins just take a few minutes, too. I have all of the pantry ingredients for this on hand almost all the time and the fresh ingredients easy, too. Here’s what’s in my Thai cucumber salad:
CUCUMBER. You can’t have cucumber salad without cucumbers! I especially like thinner-skinned cucumbers for this salad (which also have much smaller seeds). English cucumbers (sometimes called “seedless”), or Persian cucumbers are my favorites.
GREEN ONION. This adds a nice very mild onion flavor. No weird crunchiness (it softens in the dressing) and a nice pop of color, too!
CILANTRO. I love it forever! It really balances the other flavors and makes this cucumber salad taste so fresh! Can’t do cilantro? You can swap it for a little Thai basil & mint if you want.
RICE VINEGAR. Rice vinegar might sound fancy, but it’s actually pretty easy to find. I can get it at Target, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Safeway, even Amazon! I like it’s more mild flavor–it’s delicious! You can use seasoned or regular, but I don’t recommend any other vinegar substitutions for this particular salad if you want to maintain the Asian-inspired vibe. (Balsamic, white, apple cider, and red wine vinegars are all too strong.)
THAI SWEET CHILI SAUCE. I love sweet chili sauce. It’s not the healthiest condiment on the planet, but the flavor is tough to beat. It brings in a bit of sweetness (to temper the vinegar), and a bit of heat (so nice with the cool cucumbers). If you want a healthier or naturally sweetened version, you can totally make your own. (Try this recipe or this recipe, which are both naturally sweetened)
(TOASTED) SESAME OIL. Toasted sesame oil has a great (but strong!) flavor. It’s technically optional in this recipe. I wouldn’t go out and buy it *just* for this cucumber salad. Plus, you only use a few drops. Use it if you have it, otherwise, don’t stress about it.
SPRINKLES! No, not those sprinkles. The last few ingredients you sprinkle on top–pepper, red chili flakes, and sesame seeds (regular or toasted) –just bring it all together. (If you don’t want it too spicy, you can totally skip the chili flakes.)
FAQ & Notes on this Asian Cucumber Salad
CONSIDER SALTING YOUR CUCUMBERS. Salting the cucumbers ahead of time (sometimes called “purging,” which sounds gross) pulls some of the water out of the cucumbers so the dressing absorbs better, and the salad doesn’t get watered down as it sits. I’ve tried it both ways, but haven’t noticed a huge difference when I use English cucumbers. Do what you will!
To salt them, sprinkle your sliced cucumbers with about 1 tsp salt and stir with your hands to coat. Let them sit for 20-30 minutes, then drain the excess liquid and rinse your cucumbers.
HOW LONG WILL THIS KEEP? Asian cucumber salad will keep at least 4-5 days in the fridge, up to a week. Do know that the longer it sits, the softer the cucumbers become (similar to refrigerator pickles).
SPEED UP YOUR PREP. This is a fast and easy recipe. The slowest part of the process is slicing the cucumbers. You can speed things up with a mandoline slicer, or the slicing blade of your food processor. Aim for pretty thin slices.
CHANGE IT UP! If you want to play with the recipe a bit, here are a few of my favorite ways to change things up…
- SWAP YOUR SALT. Try adding 1 tsp of soy sauce, coconut aminos, or gluten free tamari instead of the salt. It’s got a nice umami flavor!
- SWAP THE ONIONS. Swap thinly sliced or finely minced red onion instead of green onion. It lends a pretty color and a stronger onion flavor than the green onions.
- ADD MORE KICK. You can totally make this spicier by adding more red chili flakes, or by adding a few drops of sriracha to your dressing.