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I’ve been making this spicy cucumber salad at least once a week since it’s heated up here as our annual intro to summer.
Which has been a big surprise for me, given that I’ve always been extremely avoidant of the sourer, vinegar-based dressings.
(I blame that on growning up in the Land Of Malt Vinegar. Just the smell of vinegar – of any kind – used to be enough for me to leave the room.)
But the light and zippy dressing in this spicy cucumber dressing is what brings everything to the party.
It’s got an acidic kick that is the perfect foil to the crispy cucumbers and makes the red pepper flakes both shine and mellow a tad. It’s the kind of sour that brings out flavors, while the burst of fresh lime juice and a little gentle funk of fish sauce makes the vinegar less assertive and more the flavor-glue that holds this dish together.
We’ve been eating this both with some Thai inspired chicken for weeknight dinners, but also as the slightly unexpected grilling accompaniment of weekend cookouts.
This spicy cucumber salad cuts through the richness of grilled meats and pairs oh so well with anything that has that smokiness of the grill in general. And it couldn’t be any simpler to make. You can even make it a day or two ahead of time, if you like.
At this time of year, baby cucumbers are everywhere, whether they’re labelled as pickling cucumbers, Persian cucumbers or simply… baby cucumbers. Which I think is adorable. The cucumbers I used to make the spicy cucumber salad you see in these photos were the cute little seedless ones that come pre-bagged and ready to take home at Sprouts. They’re perfect.
Now, I know that some of you will be tempted to skip out on the salting and draining steps. I know, you’re a rebel.
But those – super simple! mostly completely hands-off! – steps are what really make this spicy cucumber salad so freaking crisp and delicious.
Letting the cucumbers sit with a sprinkle of salt draws out the extra moisture from the cucumbers that would otherwise both make the cucumbers softer and dilute the dressing. So getting rid of that stuff is a good thing.
On average, I usually discard about 3 tablespoons of cucumber juice. In other words, without the salting & draining, your dressing would be diluted by at least half, leaving it underseasoned and fairly flavorless. No one wants that, right?!Print
Spicy Cucumber Salad with Dry Roasted Almonds & Cilantro
This spicy cucumber salad is a refreshing side for almost every summer meal: crisp vegetables meet spicy sour dressing & a contrasting toasty topping.
- Prep Time: 40 minutes, including 30 minutes hands off
- Total Time: 40 minutes, including 30 minutes hands off
- Yield: Serves 4 - 6 as a side 1x
- Category: salad
- Method: no cook
- 1 1/2 lb / 680 g baby cucumbers, I used seedless
- 1 tsp / 5 g coarse kosher salt
- 3 tbsp / 45 ml unseasoned rice wine vinegar, or sub white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml fresh lime juice
- 1 tbsp / 15 ml fish sauce, I like this one
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and microplaned
- 1 tsp / 3 g coconut sugar
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/8 tsp toasted sesame oil, I like this one
- 1/2 cup / 70 g finely diced red onion, about 1/2 of a small onion
- 1/4 cup / 40 g dry roasted almonds, like these
- 1/4 cup / 20 g fresh cilantro, a good handful or so
CRISP: Trim off and discard the ends of the baby cucumbers, then slice them lengthwise in half. Chop the cucumber halves into bite size pieces and add them to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the chopped cucumbers with the coarse salt and toss or stir to coat. Cover the bowl, pop it into the fridge and let the cucumbers sit for 30 minutes to chill & draw out excess liquid.
SHAKE: While the cucumbers are in their salt bath, whisk up the dressing. Measure the vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, microplaned garlic, coconut sugar, red pepper flakes and toasted sesame oil into a mason jar with a lid. Seal the jar tightly, then give the dressing a gentle swish around to combine. Make sure that the garlic is sitting at the bottom of the jar so that it mellows out in the dressing nicely, then pop the dressing in the fridge to chill for a bit, too.
DRY: Drain the salted cucumbers through a colander and lay a clean dish towel down on your work surface. Spread the drained cucumbers out on the dish towel, then wipe the bowl dry. Gently pat & blot the excess moisture from the cucumbers with the owel, then wrap them up loosely in the towel to absorb any last bits of liquid.
DRESS: Return the drained and dried cucumbers to the mixing bowl. Add the diced red onion & dressing, then toss to coat.
SPRINKLE: Roughly chop together the dry roasted almonds and cilantro. Divide the cucumber salad between plates or pile it onto a serving platter to share, then sprinkle the almond and cilantro mixture over the top just before serving.
- Don’t skip the salting and draining steps. I’ve made this recipe numerous times and on average find that this easy process removes about 3 tablespoons / 45 milliliters of extra liquid from the cucumbers. If you were to skip the process, that would mean your dressing would be diluted by about 50%, rendering it not only watery, but practically tasteless!
- I like to make this salad ahead of time and return the dressed – but not yet be-sprinkled! – cucumbers to the fridge for about 2 hours or so before serving. This makes them extra crisp and delicious. If you like, you can also save the salad for a day or two once dressed.
- If you do make the salad ahead, make sure to chop and sprinkle the almond-cilantro mixture on top just before serving, because it will get soggy in the dressing otherwise.
- If you like things extra spicy, add an additional 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the topping mixture and chop them into the cilantro so that they’re smaller and evenly distributed throughout. Additionally, you can garnish with a thinly sliced fresh fresno or jalapeno pepper for a little more kick.