Korean Cucumber Salad

Will you be surprised if I say this salad is not hot? In spite of being obviously full of red chilli powder, it can be served even to chilli haters, as long as you use the genuine medium hot Korean chilli powder. I prepared it at least five times in two past weeks and quickly realised it goes practically with everything, not necessarily Korean. You can even throw it onto a bibimbap if you are short of vegetables (a sensational discovery!) and you can keep the leftovers for several days. Do I need to add it’s light, refreshing and absolutely delicious?

I’ve already seen this salad in several Korean recipe sources, but never thought it would be so quick and, most of all, so good. I prepared it for the first time just after leafing through Our Korean Kitchen by Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo, a fantastic and frequently used book I was kindly offered by a friend. The authors named it “Almost-Instant Cucumber Kimchi” and it does remind me of cucumber kimchi, though I prefer to think of it now as a salad because it’s so versatile! I’ve slightly modified it, making it super quick and lazy, so I encourage you to check this fascinating book if you want to see and test the original recipe.

TIPS: As I’ve mentioned, this salad won’t be hot as long as you use Korean “gochugaru” medium hot chilli power. Contrary to it’s mention, I don’t think it’s medium hot, but barely hot. Probably because it’s supposed to be added – in big amounts – while preparing kimchi. It becomes slightly hot when big amounts are added and this salad has only two flat teaspoons of chilli, hence the mildness. Korean chilli powder not only has a low heat level, but also particular sweet flavours and a flakey texture, in short it’s unique, so look for it on internet if you cannot find it in local shops. (I buy it on internet).

Sesame oil should be Korean or Japanese toasted sesame oil. I mention this because organic shops – at least here – have recently been selling “sesame oil” (made in Europe) and I bought it once by mistake. It is made from untoasted seeds and in my opinion inedible (I still wonder what to do with it… apart from oiling the door hinges).

This salad is best served straight away, but can be kept overnight in the fridge, though the onion will get totally soft, the garlic stronger and the cucumber will lose some of its crunchiness.

If you use long cucumber or short “Asian” cucumbers, you don’t need to peel them, but if you have the short thick pickling cucumber, peel it at least partly.

If you take it as a part of your packed lunch (or picnic) and want to keep it crunchy, take the sauce separately and pour it just before serving.

Preparation: about 5-10 minutes

Ingredients (serves):

1/2 long cucumber

1 small onion (or big, if you prefer)

1 garlic clove

sesame seeds


2 tablespoons low-salt soy sauce (or 1 t. normal+some water)

2 teaspoons gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil (toasted sesame seed oil, see the TIPS above)

First combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

Cut up the cucumber into half-slices or quarter-slices with the thickness of your choice (you can use a mandolin, but I preferred it thicker and therefore crunchier).

Chop the garlic cloves and slice finely the onion.

Combine everything and serve.

9 Replies to “Korean Cucumber Salad”

  1. The certainly sounds intriguing. I love cucumbers, and I love chili spice. I have to confess I’m a little afraid of kimchi. But still I would love to try this out.

    1. Thank you, Jeff! (It’s not kimchi: it’s not fermented and certain ingredients are missing too; I have posted a Cucumber Kimchi recipe, if one day you are interested…).

  2. “oiling the door hinges” lolzers; that’s awesome. Yes! I am surprised that it’s not fiery hot; its definitely got that characteristic inferno look;  funny enough, I’ve been eating a lot of cuc salads lately but with apple cider vinegar & salt (really revolutionary I know ;0) i could definitely use a switch-up; this vibrant bowl has my mouth watering!  The toasted sesame oil really does sound perfect here.

    1. Oops… greasing the hinges? I often make such stupid mistakes… Thank you so much, Kelly! Yes! I’ve tested it on a member of my family who is scared of chilli and she took a second and even a third serving! I love cucumber in any dish (also warm, stir-fried) and I also find it delicious only with vinegar and salt.

  3. It’s interesting because I haven’t found Korean chile powder to be that hot either; however, I did buy some Korean chile flakes that are killer hot. I’ll have to same those for minimum use – not 2 tsp. 🙂 This sounds like a great little salad for an easy lunch and yes, it does look like it would go with a lot of different dishes. Great little salad Sissi.

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