Japanese Cucumber Salad

This salad is a beautifully simple side dish that celebrates its nutritious, refreshing star ingredients.

There are several variations on the Japanese Cucumber Salad, known in its native country as Sunomono. None of them are comprised of more than six ingredients, which may lead the untrained to expect that the salad is easy to make. Getting the exact balance of this dish right is surprisingly tricky. It’s the sixth ingredient that is hotly contested by purveyors of Japanese cuisine.

Cucumber Sunomono

The word sunomuno is used to describe any salad that is made using finely sliced raw vegetables with a vinegar-based dressing. Su means vinegar in Japanese, where it is mostly made from rice instead of the apples or grapes used in the west. Using rice produces a lighter, sweeter form of vinegar and using a seasoned version of this oriental style is imperative to getting the balance of the sunomono right.

There are several vital steps to getting the Japanese Cucumber salad just right. The first is ensuring the excess moisture is removed from the vegetables used. This involves using salt to draw the water out and squeezing the cucumber to get rid of any extra fluid. The Japanese love eating food raw or as close to its natural form as possible to ensure maximum nutrition and flavor. The Japanese diet, which is rich in fish and fresh vegetables, is thought to be a contributing factor as to why they are the second-longest living nation on earth.

Pay close attention to the exact quantities used and make sure you’ve got seasoned rice vinegar. These are the other two most important steps to get right when making sunomuno.

The History Of The Humble Cucumber

Broadly speaking, there are two types of cucumber — the English and the Asian versions. The cucumber dates back over 4,000 years ago to India, where the vegetable began its epic journey to become one of the most popular in the world. It’s believed to have been cultivated by ancient Indians and then sold to the Middle East. Cucumbers get an honorable mention in the sagas of the ancient Ur and the legend of Gilgamesh. Its light taste and gently crunchy texture make it a favorite among all age groups.

Recipe and Preparation

Dressing

3 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp soy sauce

Salad

1 English or 4 Asian Cucumbers
1 tbsp dried wakame
1/2 inch fresh ginger (OR 1/2 a seeded chili OR 1 tsp sesame seeds)
Salt to taste

  1. Place the seaweed into a bowl filled with cold water and set aside to rehydrate.
  2. Peel the cucumber vertically leaving alternative 1-inch areas with skin so that when you have finished, the vegetable has dark green and light green stripes.
  3. Use a mandolin, peeler or knife to slice the cucumber as thinly as possible horizontally. Sprinkle with the amount of salt that suits your palate and mix. Place the cucumber in a sieve over a bowl and set aside.
  4. Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl.
  5. Depending on if you prefer a sharp (ginger), piquant (chili) or nutty (sesame seeds) flavor, julienne the chili or ginger. If using sesame seeds, toast them over medium heat in a dry frying pan until golden.
  6. Using your hands, gently squeeze any remaining liquid from the cucumber. Then remove the wakame from the water and dry on a paper towel. Add all of the elements into the bowl with the dressing then refrigerate for half an hour before serving.

Try this amazingly refreshing salad on the side of a main course that uses fresh fish, al dente vegetables or pork for a zingy contrast.

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