Chinese Cucumber Salad.
Chinese Cucumber Salad.
Image: Supplied

It’s incredible how garlic, vinegar and chili oil, balanced by a small amount of sugar, a tiny amount of soy sauce to bring out the umami, can elevate a simple ingredient like cucumber into a wonderfully tasteful dish. Of course, a good crunchy cucumber is a prerequisite.

In my opinion, a good cook knows their way to the right ingredients. But for a good Chinese cook, knife-work also makes up 70 percent of a dish, and the rest is up to heat. A great Chinese cucumber salad requires it to be “smashed” or “smacked”, so that the garlic puree in the dressing coats the cucumber evenly.  This preparation process allows the separation between the flesh and its juice, allowing it to combine well with the dressing.

I remember the first time I tasted a smacked cucumber salad as a child while traveling to Beijing with my father on his business trip. I was surprised to have found so much more raw vegetables on the table in Northern China because food is well cooked where I came from—hours of slow cooking was the norm.

You can almost find tomato salad and cucumber salad on every northern eatery menu in Beijing. That tomato salad - simply sliced and sprinkled generously with sugar - in hindsight, I realise had to be set aside for the acidity of tomato and sugar to combine. it was something between a salad and a dessert. It made much sense for raw vegetables to pair with strong flavoured northern meals that often used various soy bean pastes and sauces. Raw veggies such as cucumber can serve to cut through the richness of these sauces. A smacked cucumber salad is well loved all throughout the year. I personally prefer it in Summer. The spicy and sourness makes it a great appetizer for hot days when I don’t have much of an appetite for food.

“When to eat what?” is much more embedded in our consciousness as a wellness blueprint than we could imagine in these modern times. We don’t know why our bodies crave certain foods, but our bodies always know better. Cucumber is not only highly fibrous, especially consumed with skin on (washed thoroughly, because agri-poison), but it is also detoxifying or “cooling” in terms of eastern medicine. Not to mention the minerals it’s loaded with. I also particularly love to stir fry cucumbers, yes, you heard right, the heat locks in its juiciness like no other. If you cook zucchinis, why not try cooking a cucumber? Consider it a much juicier cooked zucchini.

I believe taking the time to hone knife skills is an important chapter for a cook to master their craftmanship

Speaking of knife-work, chefs around the world would agree that knife skill is one of the most essential parts of cooking, along with keeping your knife sharp. A sharp knife not only allows you to work faster, but is safer. When a knife is blunt, the amount of pressure needed to cut through food is greater, one slip can cause a nasty injury. It’s another reason I believe taking the time to hone knife skills is an important chapter for a cook to master their craftmanship.

I came across another way to make the Chinese cucumber salad, which also requires immaculate knifework. Coir Raincoat Cucumber, a beautiful way to present a cucumber, by slicing halfway throughout the entire cucumber, then repeat at an angle on the reverse side, creating a long, accordion-like piece, which is then dressed in garlic-vinegar-chili oil mix, finished with hot peanut oil. The coir raincoat was created by ancient people weaving the fibre on the outer husk of a coconut into rainproof clothing material, like a raincoat. You can see the resemblance after cucumber has been processed this way.


  • 1 large cucumber (or 2, in case one breaks from the cutting process)
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 3 dried red chilies, with seed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp of aged Chinese vinegar, if you don’t have it in your pantry, simple white vinegar can do, no balsamic)
  • 1 ½ tbsp sesame oil



  1. On cutting board, use peeler to take off one strip of the skin on opposite sides to the cucumber: After much studying, I learnt that, some have improved this recipe by adding this step. Simply because by taking off some cucumber skin, it’ll give the end product more “freedom of movement” and it looks great.
  2. Secure cucumber between two chopsticks, with one of the peeled strip facing up remember to move chopsticks along as you cut.
  3. The key moment step, the cutting, steady hands, slice cucumber down but not cut through completely, about 60% of the circumference, of course, the ends will be smaller, adjust accordingly. The use of chopsticks here can help prevent you slicing all the way through. As soon as your knife touches the chopsticks, you’ve cut too deep. Space between each slicing is 2mm at most.
  4. Steadily slice through the entire cucumber, you can flip it over carefully, and slice the reverse end at 45 degree angle, at 50% depth this time.
  5. After all day, carefully place cucumber in a large flat bowl with salt water, after 15 minutes, you’ll notice that the cucumber has soften and moves easily without breaking.
  6. While soaking, you can prepare the dressing, by chopping garlic (preferably pureed, so garlic flavour can coat evenly) and chilli, then make sauce by combining all the ingredients together. Remember to use salt with caution as the soaking process would’ve salted the cucumber already.
  7. Plate: remove cucumber from salt water, add dressing, topped with garlic and chilli, finish with hot peanut oil. Et voila! Go on and impress your family with this simple, delicious yet aesthetically pleasing cold dish. Enjoy!


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