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Craving a taste of Asian flavors? Look no further than this mouthwatering Japanese Cucumber Salad recipe. Featuring tangy, sweet, and savory vinegar marinated cucumbers harmoniously tossed with pungent red onions and fresh herbs, this simple side dish is a celebration of refreshing flavors. Best of? You’ll need just 10 minutes to make it.

“I made the dressing at home, packed the vegetables “to go” and sliced at work. This is such a great office lunch with leftover chicken!”

– PAT
Angled photo of a person holding a bowl of prepared Asian cucumber salad recipe.

Update: This post was originally published in March 2015. I made updates to the post below to include more information about Asian cucumber salad. Plus, I took new photos and made slight tweaks to the recipe below! 

Hi, friends! With the weather finally turning warmer I figured it was a great time to share one of my favorite refreshing summer salads with you guys.

Fresh, fabulous, and an absolutely BREEZE to prepare, I’ve legitimately been making this Japanese sunomono cucumber salad every single summer for close to a decade. And, I’m fairly confident after one bite this will become a staple in your summer menu rotation, too.

Action photo of rice vinegar being poured over a cucumber salad.

About this Asian cucumber salad

This simple Asian, or more specifically, Japanese marinated cucumber salad is similar to Sunomono, just jazzed up with a ‘No Spoon’ touch.

Featuring delicate, crisp coins of cucumbers, thin slices of pungent red onions and fragrant fresh herbs are tossed in a silky, tangy, slightly spicy and sweet umami-packed vinegar sauce. Garnished with creamy avocado, nutty sesame seeds and salty peanuts, these oriental cucumbers is terrifically tasty! It’s light and incredibly refreshing, with a depth of cool, crisp and clean flavors.

While this marinated cucumber salad is great as a side dish, you can also add in chopped rotisserie chicken, flaked salmon or canned tuna and eat it as a light meal! Or, it’s terrific over sticky white rice or a seaweed salad!

The simplicity of flavors and ease of preparation, is what makes this Japanese salad recipe not only delicious, but also super appealing!

If you’re looking for more no-cook summer salads, be sure to try these fan-favorites next: Marinated Tomatoes Salad, Cannellini Bean Salad, Marinated Mushrooms, Italian Chopped Salad Recipe and Zucchini Noodle Salad.

Why you will love this recipe

  • Quick and easy! This cucumber rice vinegar salad recipe is incredibly easy to throw together and requires just 10-15 minutes of active preparation!
  • Healthy: Equal parts delicious, nutritious and full of healthy, good-for-you ingredients!
  • Delicious: Japanese marinated cucumbers are bursting with fresh and fragrant flavors. Trust me, veggies never tasted so good!!
  • Crowd-pleaser: Everyone always goes for second and third helping of this simple cucumber salad.
  • Versatile: This marinated salad is so versatile and pairs well with everything – from grilled meats, fish, and poultry, to your favorite Asian dishes.
Close-up photo of a Kapanese marinated cucumbers.

What is a Japanese cucumber salad?

Japanese cucumber salad, also known as Sunomono, is a type of marinated Asian salad made with fresh cucumbers seasoned with a rice vinegar and soy sauce dressing. Light, tangy, and perfectly refreshing, this salad is a popular side dish in Japanese cuisine. cucumber salad is light, tangy, and perfectly refreshing

Always looking to maximize the flavor payout, this Japanese cucumber salad recipe also includes fresh garlic and it swaps the soy sauce for rich, aromatic sesame oil. Plus, there’s a few other fresh, tasty additions to help make this cucumber salad full of delightful flavors.

Ingredients for cucumber Rice Wine Vinegar salad

This recipe for Japanese marinated cucumbers with rice vinegar relies on just 7 easy-to-find ingredients along with a couple pantry staples to create a dish that is refreshing and bursting with flavor:

  • Cucumber: While Japanese cucumbers are ideal for this salad, they are extremely difficult to find near me! English cucumbers, also known as European or seedless cucumbers, are also great choice for this salad! (See below for more information of varieties of cucumbers to use in salad!)
  • Salt: You need approximately one teaspoon of coarse sea salt to purge the cucumbers before preparing the salad. Purging prevents the dressing from getting watered down by the juice from the cucumbers.
  • Onion: Half a red onion adds a pop of beautiful deep purple color as well as a mild onion flavor.
  • Vinegar: Rice vinegar is a staple in Asian cucumber salad and it adds a very mild, slightly sweet acidic flavor. I prefer to use plain rice vinegar; however you can substitute seasoned rice vinegar if you prefer!
  • Sesame Oil: Toasted sesame oil adds a punch of rich, nutty, toasty flavor to that really makes this salad shine! A little bit of sesame oil goes a long way, so make sure you don’t over do it!
  • Mirin: Mirin is a type of rice wine that is a common staple in Japanese cooking. It adds a unique delicate sweetness that can’t be beat!
  • Garlic: One clove of fresh garlic provide a distinctive, punchy taste. Make sure you use fresh garlic, not the minced variety sold in a jar!
  • Red Pepper Flakes: Crushed red pepper flakes add a touch of slightly earthy, sharp flavor with a small dose of spicy heat. I like to use a heaping 1/2 teaspoon to my cucumber salad dressing, but I encourage you to use red pepper flakes according to your specific taste!
  • Honey: A touch of honey helps to balance out the acidity in the dressing – so don’t skip adding a sweetener to the dressing.

Substitutions and variations

Want to make a few changes or additions to this cucumber vinegar salad? Wonderful – I encourage you to make this recipe your own! Get creative or simply eliminate the ingredients you don’t like and substitute the ones you love. Below are a few easy ideas to get you started.

  • Cucumbers: If you can’t find English cucumbers at the store, you can use Persian cucumbers or mini cucumbers instead!
  • Onion: You can swap out red onion for shallots if you prefer a more garlicky-onion flavor!
  • Ginger: If you love ginger, try adding freshly grated ginger to your dressing for a delicious dose of warm, welcoming flavor!
  • Spice: If you prefer a lot of spicy heat, try substituting the red pepper flakes for ghost pepper flakes, cayenne pepper or sriracha!
  • Sweetener: Did you just notice you are fresh out of honey? No worries – try using agave or granulated sugar instead!
  • Soy sauce: If I’m looking to shake things up, I often add a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce to the dressing – the addition provides a touch of salty, umami flavor!
  • Feeding a crowd: This recipe can easily be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled!

Salad dressing

There are two different versions of cucumber salad dressing – one is a light vinegar sauce (vinaigrette) and the other is a creamy sauce (sour cream dressing). Asian cucumber salads typically use the vinegar version.

  • Asian vinegar dressing: This cucumber salad uses a simple light Asian vinegar sauce made with rice vinegar, sesame oil, Mirin, honey, garlic and red pepper flakes. The dressing gives this cucumber salad a tangy flavor profile with notes of delicious Asian flavors!
  • German creamy dressing: Creamy dressings are typically used on German cucumber salads. Creamy cucumber salad dressings are made with sour cream (or yogurt), fresh dill, garlic and very little vinegar.
Overhead photo of Japanese Cucumber Salad with onion and sesame seeds.

FAQs: frequently asked questions

You’ve got questions? I’ve got answers! If you have a question you don’t see listed below, please drop them in the comments section. I’m happy to help when I can! 

What’s the best cucumber variety to use in salads?

The best types of cucumbers to use for Japanese marinated cucumber salads are the seedless varieties. Using seedless cucumbers helps cut down the preparation time tremendously since you don’t need to peel or remove the seeds prior to making the salad.

  • Japanese cucumbers: Japanese cucumbers, also known as Kyuri in Japanese, are slender with a thin, beautiful deep forest green skin. They are typically 7 to 8 inches long and can be found in specialty markets. Japanese cucumbers do not contain any developed seeds. They have a delightfully crisp texture with a mild, slightly fruity-sweet flavor.
  • English cucumbers: English cucumbers, also known as hot-house or seedless cucumbers, are about 10 to 12 inches long and typically sold in plastic sleeves. They are long and thin with a dark green skin. English cucumbers are prized for their thin skin and minimal underdeveloped seeds. They are extremely mild with almost no taste. Their lack of flavor makes them a great choice for cucumber salads since they will soak up all the flavors in the dressing!
  • Persian cucumbers: Persian cucumbers are extremely similar to English cucumbers; however, they are available in a wider range of lengths. Persian cucumbers have a slightly bumpy, thin skin and very mild flavor.
  • Kirby cucumbers: Kirby cucumber, also known as waxy or classic cucumbers are short in length and vary in thickness. They are wonderfully crunchy, which make them ideal for pickling or snacking! While you can use Kirby cucumbers to make cucumber salad, you will need to peel them and de-seed them before preparing the salad. To seed, halve cucumbers lengthwise and use a melon baller or small spoon to drag down the middle of each half, removing and discarding the seeds.

How to pick the best cucumbers at the store?

Selecting the best cucumber at the store is easy to do once you know what to look for! It’s important to note, that while cucumbers are available year-round, summertime is when you will find the best choice of varieties at the store!

  • Touch: Choose cucumbers that are firm to the touch throughout. Pass on any cucumbers that have soft spots pr give way under slight pressure.
  • Blemishes: Cucumbers should be uniform in color, with an even dark green hue all over. Avoid cucumbers that are splotchy or mottled with any yellow spots or blemishes, as this can be a sign the is becoming overly ripe.
  • Odor: Cucumbers should be relatively odorless with a slight fresh, aqueous aroma. If your cucumber smells bitter or produces any off-putting odors it has gone bad!

Do I have to peel cucumbers for salad?

Whether or not you need to peel your cucumbers directly depends upon the variety of cucumber.

Japanese, English and Persian cucumbers have thin skins, which you do not need to peel off. However, Regular or Classic Kirby cucumbers have thicker skin that is tough and bitter; therefore, you need to peel and discard the skin.

The skin of cucumbers is rich in Vitamin A and a good source of fiber! Plus, it provides a delicious crunch, so I recommend using Japanese, English or Persian cucumbers so you can keep the skin on!

What can I add to this salad?

Toppings or garnishes are the best way to add a variety of texture and really customize your Asian cucumber salad! Feel free to keep it safe, or get creative and load up your cucumber salad with all the yummy garnishes.

  • Herbs: Delicate green onions (scallions) and citrusy cilantro are a great way to add a ton of fresh flavor!
  • Sesame Seeds: If you are looking for an aesthetically pleasing topping, black sesame seeds are a must!!
  • Nuts: Peanuts are a non-negotiable addition for me! The pops of crunchy, nutty flavor pair perfectly with this refreshing salad!
  • Avocado: Rich slices or cubes of avocado add a delicious creamy texture which perfectly contrasts the crunchy cucumbers!
  • Chile Peppers: For those who like it hot and spicy, adding chile peppers are a must! I love to add sliced jalapeños or red Thai chiles (birdseye chile peppers) depending upon what I have on hand.
  • Radishes: Thinly sliced radishes are a great way to add a layer of zesty flavor and crisp flavor!
  • Carrots: While totally not traditional, shredded sweet carrots are a delicious topping option!

How do you keep cucumber salad from getting watery?

There are three crucial tips for preventing your Asian marinated cucumber salad from getting watery!

  • Make sure you slice your cucumbers to be roughly 1/8-inch thick! If you slice your cucumbers any thinner they will become watery. However, make sure you don’t slice them too thick or they won’t soak up all the delicious vinegar dressing!
  • Salting the slices of cucumber (a process known as purging) prevents your salad from getting watery! Salting helps draw the moisture out of the cucumber so you are left with a flavorful dressing that isn’t water-logged from excess cucumber water. Make sure you salt your cucumber slices in batches and lay them down in the colander in layers – this will ensure you are evenly salting the cucumbers! layer them on top
  • To keep you cucumber salad from getting watery, it’s best to serve the salad within a few hours of preparing it! If you let the cucumbers sit for too long in the dressing they will lose their crispness and the salad will become watery.

Can I make these cucumber salad with rice vinegar in advance?

The great thing about this simple salad – it gets better with a little time! This Oriental cucumber salad actually tastes better if you purge the cucumbers and then allow them to sit in the Asian dressing for a little while. Making cucumber salad ahead of time will allow the flavors to develop and meld! There are two different ways you can make this salad in advance.

  • Purge cucumbers (making cucumber salad 1 day in advance): If you want to get a head start on prepping this salad, slice the cucumbers, season them with salt and place them in a colander sitting in or suspended over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate the cucumbers overnight. Salting the cucumbers (a process known as purging) allows the salt to draw out the excess moisture.
  • Preparing the salad (can be done 4+ hours in advance): For the best taste, make the salad 4 hours before you are ready to serve it! This allows the pickled flavors to get stronger while the cucumbers remain crunchy. Note: You can make the salad a day before you plan on serving it; however, the cucumbers will release a little bit of liquid as they sit, so your dressing will be ever-so-slightly more watery the next day.
Close-up photo of cucumber Asian salad with sesame seeds.

How to make cucumber salad with rice vinegar

This cucumber salad with rice vinegar is so easy to make and only requires 10-15 minutes of hands on, active preparation! To make prepping super easy and to ensure your cucumber slices are even in thickness, I recommend using a mandoline for slicing if you have one!

  1. Prep cucumbers: Thinly slice the cucumbers using a mandoline or sharp Chef’s knife.
  2. Purge cucumbers: Place cucumbers in a colander. Generously sprinkle with salt and toss the cucumbers well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, or up to overnight.
  3. Make the Asian marinade: Combine rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, mirin, garlic, red pepper flakes and honey. Using a whisk, stir well to combine.
  4. Dry cucumbers: Drain the cucumbers and pat thoroughly dry.
  5. Prep the salad: Transfer cucumbers to a medium bowl and add the red onions and scallions. Add the vinegar mixture and gently toss to combine.
  6. Serve or Store: Serve Japanese marinated cucumbers immediately or store in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to develop and marry. Enjoy!

Expert tips for the best success!

  1. Cucumbers: Make sure you use seedless (or semi-seedless) cucumbers in this recipe. I used English cucumbers because that is what was freshest and readily available at my market. However, if you can get your hands on seedless, Japanese cucumbers, that would be my first choice! As well, Persian cucumbers will work here too. If you use English cucumbers like I did here, there is no need to scoop out or remove the seeds.
  2. Slicing cucumbers: Aim to slice the cucumbers about 1/8-inch thick. If you slice the cucumbers too thin they will become too watery; however, if you slice the cucumbers too thick, the Asian dressing won’t permeate the cucumbers very well. If you have a mandoline, now is a great time to use it! If not, don’t worry, you can use a sharp chef’s knife to slice the cucumbers as thin as possible.
  3. Salting cucumbers: Make sure you salt the sliced cucumbers to draw out as much excess liquid as possible!! The sweet, tangy dressing is a major component of this easy Asian cucumber salad. If you don’t take the extra (hands off) time to salt the cucumbers, draining them of all excess moisture, you will end up with a watered down dressing!
  4. Refrigerate the cucumber salad and stir occasionally: To ensure you have a tasty cucumber salad, I highly recommend refrigerating the salad for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 hours, before serving. Make sure to stir you stir the cucumbers at least once during refrigeration, to ensure the cucumbers are evenly infusing with the tangy dressing!

Step by step photos: making this recipe at home

Overhead photo collage of how to make Asian cucumber salad step by step with written instructions on each step.

Serving japanese marinated cucumbers

This sliced cucumber salad recipe is the light, refreshing, incredibly versatile side dish you’re family dinners have been missing. It pairs well with just about everything, from grilled chicken and fish to steak, burgers, and your favorite stir-fries. Below are some serving ideas to help get those creative culinary juices flowing:

Common serving suggestions

  • Summer Side: This cucumber asian salad is the ideal side dish for any summer barbecue or outdoor party. Cool, tangy, and perfectly refreshing, it complements grilled meats, seafood, and veggies.
  • Stir Fry Upgrade: Take your stir fries and noodle bowls to new delicious heights by serving a generous helping of Japanese marinated cucumbers on the side. The refreshing crunch and zesty dressing add a burst of flavor to any Asian dish, whether it’s pork udon noodles, orange beef, crispy salt and pepper shrimp, or garlic and honey shrimp.
  • Sushi Night Essentials: Add a touch of Japanese flair to sushi nights at home and serve marinated cucumbers as a side dish or topping for your favorite sushi creations, like tuna for sushi, sushi bowls, and poke bowls.

Unique ideas

  • Bento Box Bonanza: Elevate your weekday lunches with a bento box. Pack sunomono alongside rice balls, teriyaki chicken or sweet chili chicken for a lunch delight thats equal parts appealing and delicious.
  • Cocktail Party Chic: Create an Asian-themed cocktail spread complete with little cups of cucumber salad bites, chinese chicken wings, and other bite-size treats perfect for mingling and munching.

Chef serving recommendation: I personally love this fresh cucumber salad with peanut brussels sprouts or cabbage stir fry and Honey Sriracha Spicy Salmon or Crock Pot Korean Ribs or for an easy and delicious dinner your entire family will love!

Overhead photo of cucumber salad Asian style in a white bowl with a pair of chopstick resting on the lip of the bowl.

Storing leftovers

Food safety is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to storage! Please follow the simple tips below to ensure you are properly storing your Japanese marinated cucumbers

To maximize the shelf life of your asian marinated cucumber salad, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Properly stored, cucumber salad will stay fresh for 4 to 5 days.

Please note, the tangy, pickled flavors get better each day; however, the cucumber’s cell walls also begin to soften with time. If you like a crunchy Asian marinated cucumbers, I recommend eating this salad within 3 days of preparation. After 3 days the cucumbers will start to lose their delicious crispness!

Recipe testimonials

Below you’ll find what readers are saying about this tried and true recipe for Japanese cucumber salad with rice vinegar

  • “Quick and easy and keeps well in the fridge!” – Rachael
  • “Great recipe. I’ve been looking for a good recipe since I have tons of Asian cucumbers that I grew from seeds this year that I picked up at the local Asian store.” – Anita
Action photo of a person eating an Asian cucumber salad.

This recipe for Japanese cucumber salad is the perfect light and healthy dish for spring and summer! It’s quick and easy to throw together, yet satisfying and jam packed with refreshing flavors! Basically, it’s a side dish I know you won’t be able to resist!

Until next week, friends, cheers – to cool cucumbers!

Cheyanne

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Overhead photo of Asian cucumber salad with red onions in a white bowl.

Japanese Cucumber Salad

5 from 10 votes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Refrigerate (optional): 30 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Craving a taste of Japan? Look no further than this mouthwatering Asian Cucumber Salad recipe! Featuring crisp cucumbers harmoniously tossed with pungent red onion, fresh herbs, and a tangy, sweet, and savory marinade dressing, this dish is a celebration of refreshing flavors. Best of? You'll need just 10 minutes to make it.

Equipment

  • 1 Strainer (for salting and draining the cucumbers)
  • 2 Mixing Bowls (one for the marinade/dressing and one for the salad)

Ingredients 

Cucumber Salad

  • 2 whole English Cucumbers – thinly slice into 1/8-inch thick coins OR cut crosswise and thinly sliced lengthwise into ribbons
  • ½ large Red Onion – thinly sliced (about 3/4 Cup)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt or Coarse Sea Salt – plus more to taste

Marinade / Dressing

Optional Additions

Instructions

  • Salt Cucumbers: Place a colander or fine-mesh strainer into a medium-size bowl so that the colander is suspended slightly above the bottom of the bowl (this will allow the cucumbers to drain without sitting in their own liquid).
    Then, add 1/3 of the cucumbers to the colander. Next, season the cucumbers with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
    Then, layer another 1/3 of the cucumbers over the top of the previously seasoned cucumbers. And season the top cucumbers with another 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
    Repeat the process one more time, adding the remaining 1/3 of cucumbers and salting them with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
    Once all the cucumbers are added and salted, use your hands or a kitchen spoon to gently toss the cucumbers to ensure they all have light contact with the salt.
    Finally, cover the cucumbers and set them in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes or up to overnight – this process will purge the cucumbers of all excess moisture which helps prevent your salad from becoming watery!
  • Meanwhile, Make the Vinegar Marinade: In a small bowl, combine the rice vinegar, mirin, toasted sesame oil, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and honey Whisk the ingredients well and then set the marinade aside. 
  • Dry Cucumbers: When cucumbers have been drained of excess moisture, remove them from fridge and discard the liquid in the bottom of the bowl.
    Transfer the cucumbers to a clean work surface lined with paper towels, a tea towel or kitchen towel. Add half the cucumbers and pat dry. Transfer the dry cucumbers to a medium size bowl. Then, re-line your work surface with paper towels and pat dry the other half of the cucumbers.
    (Note: I like to dry the cucumbers in two batches to ensure they get as dry as possible. You need the cucumber slices to be very dry so they'll soak up the flavorful marinade.)
  • Toss Cucumber Salad: To the bowl with the salted and dried cucumbers, add the red onions, scallions, fresh cilantro, and 3/4 of the vinegar marinade. Then use kitchen spoons to toss the ingredients together until the cucumbers are fully coated in the sauce.
  • For Best Results – Chill: Cover and transfer the sunomono salad into the refrigerator and allow the flavors to develop, for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours, stirring the cucumbers occasionally.
  • Taste, Garnish, Serve: When ready to serve, taste the Asian cucumber salad and adjust the flavors as desired – adding more marinade, salt and pepper, or individual ingredients as you see fit.
    Garnish the top of the salad with sesame seeds and roasted and crushed peanuts, if using.  Enjoy!

Notes

  1. Purchasing cucumbers: Make sure you use seedless (or semi-seedless) cucumbers in this recipe.  I used English cucumbers because that is what was freshest and readily available at my market.  However, if you can get your hands on seedless, Japanese cucumbers, that would be my first choice!  As well, Persian cucumbers will work here too.  If you use English cucumbers like I did here, there is no need to scoop out or remove the seeds.
  2. Slicing cucumbers: Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible!  If you have a mandoline, I recommend using it. If not, no worries – just slice them by hand and take a little extra care to slice them as thin as you can get them.
  3. Salt: Make sure you salt the sliced cucumbers to draw out as much excess liquid as possible!!  The sweet, tangy dressing is a major component of this easy Asian cucumber salad.  If you don’t take the extra (hands off) time to salt the cucumbers and allow them to drain, you will be watering down the dressing, which is a crying shame!!  It’s ridiculously easy to apply a little salt to the cucumbers, toss them and place them in a fine-mesh sieve to drain, so do NOT skip this step!
  4. Need to Scale the Recipe? Hover your mouse over the number of servings in the recipe card. You’ll see a sliding scale pop up, you can use that to scale the recipe up or down as needed.
  5. Got questions? I’ve got answers! If you ever run into an issue, have a question, or need any clarification – please feel free to drop them in the comments section. I’m happy to help when I can! 
Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and the nutrition facts are an estimate based upon 6 servings. Exact information will depend upon the brands of ingredients and precise measurements used.

Nutrition

Calories: 56kcal    Carbohydrates: 8g    Fat: 2g    Sodium: 445mg    Potassium: 171mg    Sugar: 4g    Vitamin A: 155IU    Vitamin C: 4.4mg    Calcium: 21mg    Iron: 0.3mg

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