This spicy, garlicky, vinegary smashed Chinese cucumber salad recipe is a great side and even something I like snacking on by itself. It’s delicate but seasoned just enough to keep you coming back for more.
After testing a multitude of variations, I’ve finally created a recipe that gives you lightly pickled and refreshing smashed cucumber salad at home that you can make ahead of time.
Smashed cucumber salad is also known as “pai huang gua” and is a Sichuan dish from China. It’s typically eaten as a side dish and gives a nice crunchy texture to your meal. This dish is lightly pickled and extra flavorful due to the degorging process.
I know what an awful name, but it gives us some great results. Degorging is basically sprinkling salt over vegetables and then letting them sit in the salt mix for a period of time.
The salt helps to purge some water from the vegetables and allows the cucumbers to soak up all the flavorful goodness of the dressing you mix in afterward. This is the same process we use for other pickled recipes: atchara, đồ chua, and sunomono.
It gives it a fresh and pickled taste and you don’t even lose the crunchy texture when making this dish.
What does smashing or crushing the cucumbers do?
It’s a fairly quick dish to make and includes a smashing step that is more than just fun, but purposeful. Smashing or crushing cucumbers creates pieces of rigid craters in the cucumbers.
After smashing, you end up with a wide range of textures for each piece: from crisp and sharp edges to tender and soft centers. This makes for a varied textural experience when eating and also allows for more surface area on the veggies to soak up the tasty dressing.
For this recipe, I liked to use persian cucumbers because they have a nice crunch and they have a sweet and mild flavor that pairs well with the dressing. The dressing for this recipe is a combination of chinkiang black vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, chile oil, sugar, and soy sauce.
While this dish has a lower vinegar content than other pickles, like atchara, the use of chinkiang black vinegar helps to bring in ample flavor. The addition of chinkiang black vinegar is necessary for its mild and complex flavor profile that does well to not overpower the cucumbers in this recipe.
Optional chile flakes, sesame seeds
If you want to have a little more spice in your smashed cucumbers, you can also add dried chile flakes to amp up the heat level. For more varieties on texture, I like to also include sesame seeds on top.
Serving and storage
If you have leftover cucumber salad, place it in an airtight container, and keep it in the fridge for best results. While some note that this dish is best served fresh, I’ve noticed that it’s still fairly crunchy after being in the fridge for a day or two. Unlike other “salads” cucumber is rather resilient even after sitting in the salad dressing.
Easy Chinese Cucumber Salad Recipe (Smashed, Spicy & Garlicky)
- 220 g persian cucumbers (each one weighs about 55 g)
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tbsp chinkiang black vinegar
- ¼ tsp sesame oil
- ¾ tsp white granulated sugar
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- rolling pin, mallet, or meat tenderizer
- Clean your cucumbers under running water and cut the tips off. Then lay them on top of a dish towel on your counter. Add another dish towel over the cucumbers to cover them.
- Carefully use the rolling pin or mallet to smash the cucumbers. You want to smash them until they crack and split, but so the cucumber is still in one whole piece. Use a knife to further slice the smashed pieces into about ½ inch pieces for easier eating.
- Place all the cucumbers into a bowl and sprinkle the salt as evenly as possible to make sure all the cucumbers are covered with salt. Take care in this step since even when mixing, some of the salt will stick to the cucumber where you initially sprinkled it. Stir the cucumbers and let the mixture sit on the counter for 30 minutes.
- Pour the cucumbers into a strainer and run water over the cucumber to remove the excess salt.
- Use your fingers to press or squeeze the excess water out of the cucumbers. You want to remove as much water as possible so that the cucumber will soak up all of the dressing, without completely crushing the cucumbers.
- In another bowl, combine the chinkiang black vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and soy sauce and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Stir in the dressing with the cucumber and make sure all the cucumbers are coated in the dressing.
- Serve immediately or place in the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes first for a colder cucumber salad experience.