Smashed Cucumber Salad (Pai Huang Gua)

5 from 1 vote

Chinese smashed cucumber salad, or pai huang gua, is a lightly dressed side dish that’s a little sweet, a little spicy, and very delicious! These smashed cucumbers are crisp and refreshing and pair beautifully with all of your favorite Asian meals.

overhead: Chinese cucumber saladand chopsticks on royal blue and white plate

On those hazy summer days, the last thing you want to do is slave over a hot oven or stove to make a meal. Those are the best times to turn to my cool, refreshing Chinese cucumber salad!

In China, this dish is known as pai huang gua, or smashed cucumber salad, and is almost synonymous with summertime. Some recipes lean heavily on spicy Sichuan flavors, while others stick to a light vinaigrette. 

extreme closeup: smashed cucumber salad

My recipe gives you the option! The base vinaigrette is a tangy combination of soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar, but could be dressed with a spiced chili crisp if it’s to your liking. 

Pai huang gua is best served chilled for at least 30 minutes. Coincidentally, this is just enough time to prepare fan-favorite orange chicken or hoisin salmon for dinner! You’ll probably even have time left over to whip up my 10-minute hibachi fried rice.

Tip From Kevin

American, English or Persian

You can make this with either long English cucumbers or the smaller Persian cucumbers. I do not recommend American cucumbers as they are too watery.

American cucumbers are shorter and wider than the long, narrow English or Persian cucumbers and have a more bitter flavor. English or Persian cucumbers are sweeter and contain few seeds. The difference between the two types preferred is that the long cucumbers are not as watery so they have a more concentrated cucumber flavor.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • English Cucumber – The Persian variety is a bit smaller and more tender but works just as well.
  • Chinese Black Vinegar – You can substitute this rich, fruity vinegar with rice vinegar, too.
  • Garlic – Freshly minced garlic or garlic paste is preferred to powdered. If you find raw garlic overpowering, use a sprinkling of chives instead. 
  • Light Soy Sauce It’s lighter, both in color and weight and just as salty as dark soy sauce – so it’s perfect for making vinaigrette! As for a substitute, opt for regular soy sauce instead of dark.
  • Sesame Oil – Use a light touch. The aroma is extremely appetizing, but even a little too much will overpower the whole Chinese cucumber salad.
  • Sesame Seeds These add a great crunch! If you need to use a substitute oil, such as olive or sunflower oil, you can also mix a tablespoon or so of sesame seeds into it to get closer to the flavor of sesame oil. 
  • Chili Crisp – With hints of cinnamon and orange, there’s more to this hot oil than just spice!

How to Make Smashed Cucumber Salad

  1. Prepare the Cucumbers. Trim the ends from the cucumbers, then cut each lengthwise into three equal pieces. Transfer to a Ziploc bag and lay flat on the counter. Roll over with a rolling pin to gently but firmly smash each piece into 3 or 4 flatter, smaller pieces. 
  2. Dehydrate. Remove from the bag and tear further into bite-sized pieces. Transfer to a colander or bowl and toss in the salt, then to the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so while they drain.
  3. Make the Vinaigrette. Whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, oil, and sugar until the fine grains dissolve. 
  4. Toss & Serve. Drain the water from the cucumbers and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the vinaigrette and sesame seeds, then toss until coated. Serve while still chilled with the chili crisp and cilantro.
  • Rolling Pin – Smashing, not slicing or chopping, is the most painless way to prepare smashed cucumber salad. A rolling pin allows you to easily and gently crush them just enough.

Storing Suggestions

I’m always surprised by how many people ask, “Does cucumber salad go bad?” Pai huang gua has a limited shelf life like any vegetable-based recipe. And actually, because of the vinaigrette, it may not keep as long as you would think.

Chinese cucumber salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Day by day, it becomes soggier and mushier until it becomes totally unappetizing. 

I also do not recommend freezing it because the soft cucumber flesh does not weather freezing and thawing well.

3 serving bowls of Pai Huang Gua cucumber salad lined up front to back

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Chinese cucumber?


The Chinese cucumber, also known as the Asian heirloom or suyo long, is a very crisp, sweet vegetable. It’s seedless, slender, and has a unique, ribbed exterior. 

It’s actually rather difficult to get a hold of in the United States! Luckily, the English (or Hot-House) cucumber is also seedless, has thin skin, and is much easier to find.

How do you prevent cucumber salad from being watery?


First and foremost, do not use American cucumber to make smashed cucumber salad. Their seeds hold much more water than English, Persian, or Asian cucumbers. That guarantees a soggy salad! 

Secondly, I recommend salting the cukes to draw out as much water as possible. This process, called osmosis, pulls water toward the ingredient with the highest concentration of salt — which in this case is the, well, salt! It only takes 20 or 30 minutes and is extremely effective.

Do cucumbers need to be peeled for salad?


You can if you like, but you do not need to — the skin is not harmful to eat. In fact, I do not peel the skins because I feel they add a nice texture and prevent the salad from becoming too soggy overall.

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overhead image: smashed cucumber salad and chopsticks on royal blue and white plate

Smashed Cucumber Salad (Pai Huang Gua)

5 from 1 vote
Smashed cucumber salad is a classic Chinese app or side that is tossed in an easy vinaigrette thats sweet, spicy, and refreshing.
Servings: 4
Prep: 10 minutes
Resting Time: 20 minutes
Total: 30 minutes

Ingredients 

Serving

Instructions 

  • Trim and discard ends from cucumbers. Cut each cucumber crosswise into three equal lengths. Place cucumber pieces in large zip-lock bag and seal bag. Using a rolling pin or the side of your chef knife, firmly but gently smash down on cucumbers until flattened and split lengthwise into 3 to 4 pieces each.
  • Using your hands or knife, tear or cut into bite size pieces and transfer to colander set in large bowl. Sprinkle cucumbers with salt and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to drain.
  • Whisk the vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, oil, and sugar until sugar has dissolved.
  • Transfer cucumbers to serving bowl. Add the dressing and sprinkle sesame seeds on cucumbers. Toss to mix thoroughly. Serve immediately with cilantro and a drizzle of chili crisp (optional).

Nutrition

Calories: 47kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 836mg | Potassium: 245mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 158IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 36mg | Iron: 1mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Salad
Cuisine: Asian, Chinese
Author: Kevin
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): pai huang gua Chinese cucumber salad

Kevin

I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you for the recipe. I was looking for this for a long time.
    Simple and delicious!
    Greetings from the Netherlands.