My Dad’s Sichuan Smashed Cucumber Salad Is a Spicy Summer Staple

published Jun 18, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Sichuan Smashed Cucumber Salad

This flavor-forward salad makes for the perfect summer side dish, especially when paired with a bowl of white rice to soak up all the sauce.

Serves4

Prep30 minutes

Cook5 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
cucumber salad in a bowl with a spoon in it
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

Bold, bright, and distinctive are not only the adjectives I would use to describe my father, but also his cooking. A big believer that food is one of the best ways to learn about other cultures, my dad has always enjoyed making dishes from all over the world, while at the same time exploring his own Chinese cuisine.

While my father didn’t grow up with a penchant for spice, marrying my mother also meant marrying into a love of all things extremely hot, including Sichuan cuisine. The evolution of his taste buds resulted in a very flavorful upbringing for me, which is perhaps best evidenced by his signature cucumber salad.

Sichuan cuisine is known for being almost excessively spicy, but the mala numbing spice synonymous with the region isn’t the kind of sweat-inducing heat that renders dishes inedible save for the colder months. No, my father’s Sichuan smashed salad was a staple even during hot Texas summers. The fresh crispness of the cucumber paired with the acidity of the vinegar, the sweetness of the soy sauce and sugar, and the floral notes of the cilantro makes for a refreshing, flavor-forward dish that’s hard to stop eating. The cold nature of the dish offsets the heat even more, and creates an enticing flavor profile that can be modified based on your personal spice tolerance.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

Customizing This Cucumber Salad

Indeed, one of my favorite things about this cucumber salad is how distinctly customizable it is. While spice-lovers can certainly pump up the heat, those who are wary of Sichuan peppercorns and chili oil can significantly reduce their presence without fundamentally altering the flavor of the dish. After all, much of this salad’s character is driven by the garlic, cilantro, and sesame oil. Serve it with a bowl of white rice or another starch that can soak up the sauce, and don’t forget the final scattering of peanuts, which adds the perfect amount of crunch.

Look for Sichuan sauce in your local Asian supermarket, or order some online. You can also swap in your favorite chili oil. Really, what you’re looking for is that peppercorn bite that’s both spicy and a bit tongue-numbing. 

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.

Sichuan Smashed Cucumber Salad

This flavor-forward salad makes for the perfect summer side dish, especially when paired with a bowl of white rice to soak up all the sauce.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 5 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    medium English cucumber

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 4 cloves

    garlic

  • 2 to 3 sprigs

    fresh cilantro

  • 2 tablespoons

    granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    Sichuan Sauce for Salad (or your favorite Sichuan peppercorn sauce)

  • 1 tablespoon

    rice vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    regular or light soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    spicy sesame oil or toasted sesame oil

  • 2 tablespoons

    roasted peanuts

Instructions

  1. Using the flat side of a large chef’s knife or butcher’s knife, firmly tap (or crush) the entire length of 1 medium English cucumber to release its juices. Cut the cucumber into bite-sized pieces, and place in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and toss to combine. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop 4 garlic cloves and 2 to 3 sprigs fresh cilantro (about 1 teaspoon).

  2. Drain the liquid from the cucumber. Add the garlic and cilantro and stir to combine. Add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon Sichuan sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon spicy sesame oil, and toss to combine. Top with 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: This salad can be made up to a day ahead, and will help flavors permeate the cucumber even further. However, this will also result in a spicier salad, so adjust proportions accordingly. Add the peanuts right before serving.

Storage: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days.