Understated yet so refreshingly cool. We adore Chinese smashed cucumber salad (pai huang gua 拍黃瓜). This is an easy side dish full of crunchy texture and garlicky tangy flavours that are a perfect companion to rich or spicy foods and hot weather.
- Why You’ll Love This Salad
- Why Do We Smash The Cucumber?
- How To Smash Cucumber?
- Is Cucumber Good For You?
- Which Cucumber To Use?
- Recipe Overview
- How To Prepare Cucumber
- How to Make the Salad Dressing
- How to Assemble the Salad
- Variations and Substitutions
- What To Eat With Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why You’ll Love This Salad
Simplicity at its best. Smashed cucumber salad, AKA pai huang gua 拍黃瓜, is a popular Chinese side dish that has been on family tables and restaurants for as long as forever.
I adore this classic Chinese side dish recipe because it is simple, yet the flavours and textures are so addictive.
The refreshing crunchy smashed cucumbers match well with the appetising blend of punchy garlic, aromatic sesame oil and soy vinegar dressing. And the flavours are enhanced even more as the dressing seeps into the smashed craggy shapes of the cucumber.
The light, subtle flavours of this cucumber salad lends it to be the perfect side dish. I find the tangy flavours help cut through the heavier meals. It is a fantastic companion for braised pork belly, roast duck, Lanzhou noodle soups, stir fries, Korean BBQ and grilled meats.
Chinese smashed cucumber salad is often served as an appetiser in restaurants, and often eat a whole plate by itself!
Why Do We Smash The Cucumber?
This is genuinely a classic Chinese technique. I am not smashing the cucumber because I feel like it. When we smash and bruise cucumber, there are definite benefits:
- Smashing cracks the skins and helps release the seeds and more natural sweetness.
- It also creates different shapes of cucumber compared to just slicing it, which adds to the texture of the salad.
- And finally, it creates extra nooks and crannies where the dressing can seep in and enhance the flavours.
How To Smash Cucumber?
I used a heavy cleaver (flat side) to smash my cucumber, but you can use any heavy object in the kitchen. A meat mallet, rolling pin or pestle will work fine.
You place the cucumbers flat on the chopping board and you start to smash the cucumbers with your cleaver or mallet. Similar to if you were tenderising meat. However, don’t go all out as we want to achieve smashed chunks of cucumber, not smashed mush.
Once the cucumber cracks and splits, you can stop. The flesh will break down a little, and you will see some of the seeds fly out.
I have seen some people put the cucumbers in a sandwich bag first and then bashed them in there to avoid it from going everywhere.
Is Cucumber Good For You?
Cucumbers have a natural cooling effect as it has high water content. A great vegetable to eat to keep you hydrated. That is also why you see it used as a beauty product to add coolness and reduce inflammation.
Cucumbers are a great source of vitamins A, B and C, plus nutrients and minerals like folic acid, iron, calcium and magnesium. Definitely a useful vegetable to include in a healthy diet.
I believe the Chinese smashed cucumber salad pai huang gua recipe was created specifically because of its cooling agent. The chilled smashed cucumber salad is fantastic on summer days, and it will balance the heat and richness of the heavy dishes that it is often served with.
Which Cucumber To Use?
For this pai huang gua recipe, I used Lebanese / Persian cucumbers. I find the smaller size works well when bashing them, and they have thinner skin and a nice sweet crunch.
You can also use English cucumbers or Japanese cucumbers if available in your area. They all have thinner skins and juicy and tender seeds in the middle, making it easier to bash and mingle with the salad dressing.
Flavour/Texture: The cucumbers deliver great crunch, and together with soy vinegar dressing in this pai huang gua recipe, there is a whole load of unassuming flavour. The raw crushed garlic adds the final punch with a bit of warmth and aromates.
Ease: It really can’t get much easier than smashing and cutting cucumbers and adding a simple dressing. Let the ingredients and time do their work.
Time: I salted my cucumbers to draw out the excess water, so it added another 10 minutes, but otherwise, you can easily make this recipe in less than 10 minutes.
These are the ingredients you need for Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad:
Cucumber: Regardless of which variety of cucumbers you use for smashed cucumbers, make sure you choose fresh cucumbers. Look for ones that are firm to hold and not spongy or soft to feel.
The ends are rounded and not starting to wrinkle because that means it is past its prime. Avoid those that have blemishes and have begun to turn yellow. This applies to all our salads with cucumbers:
- Cucumber and Tomato Salad
- Cucumber Finger Lime Salad
- Grilled Pineapple Cucumber Salad
- Sesame Avocado Cucumber Salad
- Tofu Skin Salad with Cucumber and Cauliflower
Garlic: This is to add oomph to the salad. You can finely chop the garlic, or I used a grater and grated my garlic into the salad dressing.
Soy sauce: A quintessential Chinese seasoning, soy sauce adds salt and umami flavours. If you need a gluten free recipe, use tamari instead.
Rice vinegar: I have used rice wine vinegar for this recipe, but you can also use Chinese black vinegar, which is common in similar recipes.
Sesame oil: Nutty flavours of sesame oil lifts the soy and rice vinegar. Together the three (soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil) form the base of many Asian salad dressings. However, you don’t need a lot of sesame oil as it can be quite intense compared to other oils.
Salt: I am adding salt to the cucumbers to help draw out the liquid. This is not for seasoning.
Sugar: To taste
Chilli oil: Optional seasoning for pai huang gua if you prefer a spicy version. I normally use Lao Gan Ma crisp chilli oil for the extra flavour.
Step by step instructions for how to make Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad:
How To Prepare Cucumber
Wash cucumbers and place on chopping board. No need to peel cucumbers.
Use a heavy object to smash the cucumbers. I used a heavy cleaver knife, but you can also use a meat mallet, rolling pin or pestle.
Once the cucumber cracks and splits, you can stop smashing. The flesh will break down a little, and you will see some of the seeds fly out.
Then slice the cucumber on a diagonal into bite sized chunks.
Place in a mixing bowl and add salt. Mix and let it sit for at least 10 minutes to draw out the excessive moisture.
Drain excess water and place cucumber back in bowl ready to be dressed.
How to Make the Salad Dressing
Finely chop or grate garlic.
In a small mixing bowl, add chopped garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and sugar together.
Mix well until sugar has dissolved.
How to Assemble the Salad
Add salad dressing over the smashed cucumber.
Transfer to serving bowl. Add chilli oil if you prefer a spicy version.
Variations and Substitutions
Additional seasoning: You can add extra toppings or seasoning to pai huang gua, including scallions/spring onions, toasted sesame seeds, chilli flakes, and chopped coriander. All add different aromates and fresh flavours.
Alternative ways to smash cucumber: I have seen people place the cucumbers in a sandwich bag, seal and then lightly smash the cucumbers inside the bag. It will help reduce the splatter.
Substitute for rice wine vinegar: If you don’t have rice wine vinegar at home, apple cider vinegar will work or use Chinese black vinegar. Chinese black vinegar has a deeper aromatic flavour compared to rice wine vinegar which is lighter and cleaner. I would probably use a little more sugar if I used black vinegar.
Gluten free option: Use tamari instead of soy sauce for a gluten free side salad.
What To Eat With Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad
What to serve with Chinese smashed cucumber salad? Try these delicious Asian recipes:
Cashew chicken stir fry: This recipe is an easy and delicious weeknight meal! It’s loaded with protein, vegetables and is even better than takeout! Serve it up with our Chinese smashed cucumber salad for a fantastic meal!
Stir-fried garlic scapes with pork & tofu: This recipe is quick and easy to make in 20 minutes, and jam-packed with flavour! Tender pork slices, tofu, and garlic scapes get tossed with fragrant aromatics in a delicious spicy Sichuan-style sauce! You can add to the spiciness or cool it down with this delectable smashed cucumber salad!
Amazing egg roll recipe: Accompany this family favourite with a Chinese smashed cucumber salad. Both these dishes bring back wonderful childhood memories!
Frequently Asked Questions
You can prepare pai huang gua ahead of time but don’t leave overnight. I sometimes prefer to prepare it all the ingredients beforehand and leave in the fridge to chill. Then dress when close to serving.
You can leave Chinese cucumber salad in an airtight container in the fridge. It will store for another day. The cucumber salad is still fine to eat when left overnight, but it may be a bit watery with all the liquid seeping out.
No, there is no need to peel as the skin adds flavour. However, if you prefer skinless cucumbers, that is fine too.
I prefer to salt the cucumber to draw out the excess water and help the cucumber keep its crunch when dressed. If you don’t pre-salt the cucumbers, there might be a bit too much water that seeps from the cucumber after dressing.
One of my favourite Chinese side dishes, pai huang gua is so simple to make and is the perfect appetiser or side dish for many occasions.
I am more than happy to eat Chinese smashed cucumber salad with a big bowl of cold noodles and peanut sauce during the summer or serve it with braised pork belly and steamed rice during winter. A great addition to your festive and Lunar new year celebrations as well.
This is one of those classic easy Chinese side dishes that never get old or go out of fashion—simple, good food.
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Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad (Pai Huang Gua)
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- Place cucumber on chopping board.
- Use a heavy object like a mallet or cleaver to smash the cucumbers.
- Once the cucumber cracks and splits, you can stop smashing.
- Then slice the cucumber on a diagonal into bite sized chunks.
- Place in a mixing bowl and add salt.
- Mix and let it sit for at least 10 minutes to draw out the excess moisture.
- Drain excess water and place cucumber back in bowl ready to be dressed.
- Finely chop or grate garlic.
- In a small mixing bowl, add chopped garlic, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and sugar together.
- Mix well until sugar has dissolved.
- Add salad dressing over the smashed cucumber. Mix well.
- Transfer to serving bowl. Add chilli oil if you prefer a spicy version.
- You can add extra toppings or seasoning to pai huang gua, including scallions/spring onions, toasted sesame seeds, chilli flakes, and chopped coriander.
- If you don’t have rice wine vinegar at home, apple cider vinegar will work or use Chinese black vinegar.
- Use tamari instead of soy sauce for a gluten free side salad.
- You can prepare pai huang gua ahead of time but don’t leave overnight. You can always prepare the ingredients and dress when close to serving.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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