This Spicy Cucumber Salad uses a smoky and nutty chili oil with vinegar and a touch of sweetness to make a very flavorful and refreshing appetizer.
What is this Spicy Cucumber Salad?
I came across a dish quite similar to this one at a restaurant in the past few months. It was a play on the traditional Sunomono, a Japanese salad of cucumbers, seaweed, and other items in a sweet-sour vinegar marinade with sesame seeds and radish sprouts on top. This one, in particular, had a remarkable smoky chili oil – not a standard touch but very welcome.
I wanted to recreate that dish, so I developed a chili oil using chili flakes and chipotle powder to make it happen. The chili oil ended up having some Chinese touches as well – five-spice powder and Sichuan peppercorn gave it a nice complexity.
Spicy Cucumber Salad Two Ways
Because of the hybrid Japanese-Chinese nature of the chili oil that I put together for this dish, I went ahead and did two versions of the salad, one Japanese and one Chinese.
- The Japanese version (aka sunomono) includes thinly sliced cucumber, fueru wakame seaweed, radish, radish, and radish sprouts. I adopted some methods from Just One Cookbook for this version.
- The Chinese version (aka liangban huanggua) is simpler and has quartered and “smashed” cucumber chunks in the style of the classic Chinese cold dish.
Both versions include the sweet-sour vinegar mixture and nutty sesame seed topping. The cucumbers are cut differently, but both ways allow it to absorb lots of sauce. The main difference is in mouthfeel.
A Note About the Chili Oil
This recipe requires homemade chili oil made per my recipe (or any recipe you prefer, for that matter). You can also use store-bought chili oil if you like. But my recipe is really quick to make and extremely versatile. If you’ve got the extra 10 minutes, I highly recommend making some.
A Note About Cucumbers
If you can, use Persian, Japanese, or English cucumbers for this dish. They have thinner skin than the thick standard American variety and their seeds are less watery.
More Catchy Plant-Based Appetizers
As always, if you try this recipe out, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @gastroplant on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Spicy Cucumber Salad
- 6 ounces cucumber preferably Persian, Japanese or English variety (170 grams)
- 1/2 Tablespoon smoky chili oil
- Sesame seeds to garnish
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar unsalted
- 1/2 Tablespoon maple syrup or other sweetener
- 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
For Japanese Version Only
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt or half that amount of fine grain salt
- 1 Tablespoon dried fueru wakame
- 1 red radish sliced thinly
- Radish sprouts for garnish
Make the Chinese Version (Liangban Huanggua)
- Cut the cucumber into quarters lengthwise so you have 4 long strips. Use the side of the knife blade and gently press down to smash the strip. It should be slightly deformed but not flattened.
- Cut each smashed strip into pieces that are roughly as long as they are wide and tall. Place the cucumber pieces in a bowl.
- Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Stir until consistency is even. Pour sauce over smashed cucumber pieces. Stir to mix well. Garnish with sesame seeds. Add extra chili oil as desired. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Make the Japanese Version (Sunomono)
- Place the dried fueru wakame in a medium-sized bowl and add at least 1.5 cups of water. Stir. Soak until fully rehydrated, about 10 minutes.
- While the wakame rehydrates, slice the cucumber into round pieces as thinly as possible. Place the cucumber slices in a bowl and add the coarse salt. Stir to mix thoroughly, taking care not to break any of the cucumber pieces. After 5 minutes place the cucumber slices in a mesh strainer and squeeze out whatever liquid you can. Discard any liquid left in the bowl. It also helps to wrap the cucumber slices in a paper towel and gently squeeze to further dry the cucumber.
- Drain the wakame and combine it with the cucumber slices in a bowl. Drizzle the sauce over the vegetables and stir to mix well. Garnish with sesame seeds, radish slices, and radish sprouts. Add extra chili oil as desired.