Pai Huang Gua is a fabulous Chinese cucumber salad featuring smashed cucumbers with craggy edges, perfect for holding a flavorful garlic-sesame vinaigrette. Make this refreshing summer dish!
There are several marinated cucumber recipes here in the U.S, with creamy cucumber salad being one of the most popular. But the veggie is also a staple in cuisines along the Silk Road.
Those dishes are all delicious, but so often, the dressing slides off of the cucumber slices, leaving you with a salad that lacks in flavor.
This is not the case with Chinese cucumber salad!
It’s a unique smashed cucumber salad that’s SO delicious, it’s sure to become your new favorite summertime side dish!
Pai Huang Gua
Why Smashing Cucumbers Works in a Salad
If the thought of smashing perfectly crisp, whole cukes into smaller ragged-edged pieces seems odd, it’s okay. The delicious flavor of the Chinese cucumber salad will help you become a believer!
An analogy to help you appreciate the benefits:
Imagine rain water flowing down a street full of potholes. The water slides right over the flat portions of the street, pooling inside the potholes.
In a similar way, the craggy edges of smashed cucumbers are able to hold and absorb the flavorful garlic-sesame vinaigrette dressing. This explains why the this recipe is SO much better than any other!
Substitutes for Chinese Cucumbers
In the U.S., it can be difficult to source the Chinese variety. Fortunately, they are similar to other seedless varieties. Good substitutes for the Asian cucumber are English (Hot-House) and Persian cucumber, because both have thin skin and are seedless.
Unfortunately, standard American slicing cucumbers don’t work well in this recipe. For one, they have a waxy, thick skin that tends to have a bitter flavor.
Also, they have seeds that hold a lot of water. Smashing them creates too much liquid and leaves very little flesh. If all you have access to are American cucumbers, you’ll have better results if you peel them.
These are my tips for making a fantastic pai huang gua salad:
- Smash, don’t chop or slice.
Instead of chopping or slicing the cukes, press down on them with a rolling pin or the side of a large chef’s knife to mash them.
Do this with intent, but don’t smash them too much. If you apply too much force, you may end up with a pile of mushy cukes.
The goal is to create rough edges and a more surface area.for the sesame vinaigrette to soak in to.
- Chill for 30 minutes before serving.
This dish tastes the best when it’s served the day it is made and has been chilled for at least 30 minutes. Unlike marinating cucumbers, this chill time ensures that you have a cold cucumber salad.
- Storing leftovers
Refrigerate any leftover cucumber salad in an airtight container and use within 3 days for the best results. After the 3rd day, the cucumber becomes saturated with the salad dressing and tends to be too mushy to enjoy.
Serving Suggestions for Chinese Cucumber Salad
In China, this dish is often served as an appetizer, but there are definitely other ways to serve it.
- As an appetizer, it’s fantastic served on rice crackers or in a serving dish with steamed shrimp.
- As a side dish, pai huang gua pairs well with almost any type of grilled meat and even grilled salmon.
- For a main course, add a cooked protein of your choice and serve your Chinese cucumber salad on a bed of rice noodles. Using it in a cold ramen salad would be delicious as well!
Pai Huang Gua (Chinese Cucumber Salad)
- 2 English cucumbers
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 4 tsp Chinese black vinegar or rice vinegar
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp sesame seeds toasted
- cilantro for garnish
- Chili Crisp Chili Oil Sauce, optional
- 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).
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.