Chinese Cucumber Salad


When my mother went through her Chinese cooking phase, which began when we moved Seattle, Washington, she was a whirling dervish in the kitchen.

It was steamed buns, sea cucumbers, fried dumplings, whole baked fish, fermented bean sauce, dried shark’s fins, wintermelon soup, hotpots, and a lot of unidentifiable ingredients.

Our kitchen smelled like dried fish, just like the Chinese grocery store we would frequent at Pike Place market. If you want to read more about my mother’s crazy eccentric phase cooking for an uninspired husband and tweens with limited palates and even less patience, read Growing up Foodie.

I wasn’t much for vinegar or cucumbers when I was young. But I always remembered a Chinese cucumber salad my mother made. And I’m talking real cucumbers, not sea cucumbers.

When I married, I was gifted the set of Time Life Foods of the World cookbooks by my mother. At that point I had an improved palate. I made the cucumber out of this book, and have been making it ever since.

I love the salad because it’s a little salty, a little sweet, and it is rounded out with hot sauce and sesame oil. So many wonderful layers of flavor!

Because of my mother’s time working closely to her Chinese friend, Mrs. Chin, from whom she took Chinese cooking lessons, she learned lots of tricks, like this one.

Mrs. Chin always de-seeded cucumbers before using them by halving cucumbers lengthwise, and either cutting out or scooping out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller. To this day I do it without thinking. I have nothing against cucumber seeds, but they’re watery.

It looks like I’m destroying the poor cucumber in the photo where I’m scraping the seeds out with a spoon. Definitely use a melon baller.

Then I salt the cucumber slices on the inside, turn them over on paper towels, and let them drip dry for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have the time, just wipe the insides with a paper towel after you’ve removed the seeds.

Here’s the recipe from the Chinese cookbook.

Cucumber Salad with Spicy Dressing
printable recipe below

2 medium cucumbers
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (or a little less)
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco (or a little more)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel the cucumbers and cut them lengthwise in two. With a melon baller, scrape the seeds out of each half, leaving hollow boats.

Cut the cucumbers crosswise into 1/4” thick slices.

In a small glass bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame seed oil, Tabasco, and salt, and mix well.

Add the cucumber. With a large spoon, toss to coat each slice thoroughly with the dressing.

Chill slightly before serving.

And yes, I love hot sauce!

As a cold side dish at a Chinese meal, it will serve 4 to 6.

I sprinkled some black sesame seeds over the cucumber salad just for fun, even though they look like seed ticks. They are not.

My friend had recently gifted me with fresh tuna steaks, so I served them with the cucumber salad. It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.



75 thoughts on “Chinese Cucumber Salad

  1. Dried sharks’s fins? What did they taste like Mimi? I was just scrolling down your recipe there thinking “tuna steaks might go nicely with this cucumber salad” and there you’ve beaten me to it. I can imagine the taste of those steaks against the salty sweet hot sauce and sesame oil infused cucumbers must taste amazing!

    • Exactly. It was a lovely coincidence. I don’t know if I ate shark’s fins, which are hopefully illegal now. When my mother cooked we weren’t allowed in the kitchen because it stressed her out. I remember loving certain foods, but not fond of many…

  2. Wow. I am impressed by your mother! Crazy or eccentric, it must have been a good start for you in culinary exploration! I have to read the other post!

    Love Chinese cucumber salad. And Japanese cucumber salad, too. Both so light and refreshing!

  3. You created a perfect meal with the salad and the ahi steak. I still have the Time Life German cookbook.

    • Me too! Well, I have the whole set. Never have made much out of the Scandinavian one, but the others are worn!

    • Hahahahaha! She worked so hard, and we were so unappreciative. But it’s hard to be 13 and be faced with a fried tiger lily on your plate. And turtles in your soup.

    • I know. Don’t you want to drink sesame seed oil?!! To at least put some under your nose so you can keep smelling it…

  4. Love the salad but laughing because I cannot imagine my mother being a whirling dervish… she is so serious, not much of Italian blood running through her veins ……

      • I understand it refers to someone that is messy and chaotic, in a cute way… LOL; besides, who cares about dancing reputation as long as it is creative and relaxing, anyway :-)

      • I truly looked it because I wasn’t sure why the term popped into my head. And there were a lot of negatives descriptions. They fit!

  5. Lovely and refreshing salad. Perfect to pair with the tuna steaks.
    Your mother’s crazy/eccentric phase is admirable, though it’s totally understandable it wasn’t so from a child’s point of view.

    • No, it was sometimes scary, and of course I wasn’t old enough to appreciate all of the great food.

  6. Love the story behind this salad Mimi… your dressed cucumber salad is so much more appealing than the thought of turtle soup and shark’s fins! I look forward to trying this very soon.

    • Isn’t that interesting!!! Once for Thanksgiving she made the pastry-wrapped whole salmon. (She never ever made turkey – I’m not sure why we ever celebrated Thanksgiving.) She was an artist, so she carved every single scale into that pastry, and it was so beautiful. 1968 – wish I’d taken a photo. But then, I was mad, cause I wanted turkey like most Americans!

  7. Ooooh nice! I woke up this morning, thinking of a viciously hot szechuan duck for dinner today – when I suggested that one to hubby, he handed me the temperature forecast and informed me that a trip to the loony bin might be a better idea than a trip to our butcher’s. I think this beautiful salad, once chilled for an hour or so, might be the perfect side to a duck dish even on the hottest of days, perfectly capable of a) putting out the flames of the dish and b) of giving hubby back some faith in my sanity :D thanks for sharing this~

  8. I usually deseed my cukes too, and always do when using them in a salad like this. Cucumber salads can be so good! I usually end up making a Hungarian-style cucumber salad, but Asian ones are wonderful too. Yours looks exceptional — thanks.

    • Huh, my comment disappeared! What exactly is a Hungarian cucumber salad? I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like that before, especially something raw!!!

  9. It looks like a perfect summer salad. I often read the Chinese traditionally don’t eat raw vegetables, but apparently it’s not true. Or maybe depends on the region…
    I would never think of adding tabasco to a Chinese dish but it sounds like a great idea!

    • Sichuan chili oil is great, but this way you get to use sesame seed oil and then also add hot sauce!

    • Exactly. I knew there was some kind of serrated spoon but i couldn’t think of the name! Thank you! It seriously looks like I’m torturing the poor cucumber!

  10. Mimi, this is a great easy recipe. We make the spicy dressing and keep it in the fridge, that way on Sushi takeaway night we just chop up some cukes and toss. Oh, I do miss Pike Place Market, used to be my go-to foodie mart.

    • That’s a brilliant idea – I need to do that. It’s good on tomatoes, too. Yes, i have fond memories of Seattle in general, even tho I was 10-12 when we lived there.

  11. Reading through the ingredients, I know I would love this. Oh, I forgot to mention that I did make your white bean dip for the barbecue we hosted here last Friday. It was just lovely!

    • Oh fabulous! And there are so many variations, as you can well imagine! I bet you didn’t miss tahini!

  12. Cucumber is delicions, especially in Summer. It’s the best foods to supplement the moisture of the body. Actually, this way is more like Amercian foods. I have introduced some Chinese foods in my blog. If you guys are interested in Chinese foods, you may have a look at it.

  13. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this recipe. My mother had this cookbook, and cooked from it often. I have always loved to flip through her cookbooks and one day when I was about 15 I happened upon this recipe. I LOVE cucumbers, and thought it looked interesting, so I got the ingredients and made it one day. Well, needless to say it became my all time favorite snack & I made it all the time for myself over the years. Well – there was some water damage at my mom’s condo when i was in my 20s & the book was lost. I’ve always made it from memory since then. But every now & then I put in the search terms “tobasco” “cucumbers” & “boat” (b/c I remember that description!) just in case b/c I always wanted to know the exact proportions of everything. I didn’t remember the name of the cookbook. My searches always turned up nothing until today! I’m so happy to have found it 25 years later! THANK YOU!

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