This spicy Korean cucumber salad is an easy anytime side dish with bold spicy flavor. Serve this cucumber salad alongside bulgogi or keep it simple with grilled chicken, fish or tofu.
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Why I Love This Recipe
If you’re a ZK reader, you know we love any and all things Korean around here. We have tons of Korean-inspired recipes to satisfy your craving. We’re also avid readers of Korean chefs and creators like Annyeong of My Korean Kitchen, her Cucumber Kimchi is outstanding. And be sure to check out Maangchi, her YouTube is incredible and inspired my recipe for Korean Tofu.
Additionally, I love any kind of simple vegetable salad. When a dish celebrates a vegetable with simplicity and is ready in no time, it’s a winner in my book. This Simple Radish Salad is a great example, as is our Simple Celery Salad and Shaved Fennel Salad (just 3 ingredients!).
All that to say, this Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad fits the bill for both things. I love the simplicity, the ease, and of course the kick of heat and flavor from Gochugaru (Korean chili flakes).
Looking for another Korean side dish? Check out one of our most popular recipes, Saucy Gochujang Noodles.
Ingredients in Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad
- Cucumber, I like to use an English cucumber or hothouse cucumber because they’re easy to find in most grocery stores. You can also use Persian, Japanese or two to three small Kirby cucumbers.
- Scallion (green onion), you just need on! It adds the perfect mild onion flavor to the salad without taking over.
- Kosher salt, we like Morton around here.
- Vinegar, I recommend using either rice wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar.
- Honey balances out all of the flavors. It combines beautifully with the vinegar and oil and makes the vinaigrette slightly sweet. You can use a couple teaspoons of sugar, just be sure to whisk until it fully dissolves into the vinaigrette.
- Toasted sesame oil is one of my favorite ingredients in the kitchen. It’s a great way to quickly and easily up the ante on everything from rice to vinaigrettes and sauces. Find it next to the Asian sauces and condiments in the grocery store.
- Gochugaru, aka Korean chili pepper flakes. You can find Gochugaru at any Korean or Asian markets. (Note, it’s sometimes labeled as Korean chili flakes, Korean pepper powder, or Korean red chili powder.) You can of course find it online.
- Toasted sesame seeds are totally optional but add a bit of texture.
How to Make Korean Cucumber Salad
- The first step is to salt the cucumber slices and let them sit for 15 minutes. This draws out excess moisture, softens the cucumber, and seasons it all at once.
- While the cucumbers rest, whisk together the vinaigrette in a large mixing bowl and slice the scallion.
- Shake the colander with the seasoned cucumber to shake away excess moisture. Add the cucumber slices and scallion to bowl with vinaigrette.
- Toss the cucumber slices with the vinaigrette to coat then season with salt and additional gochugaru to taste.
- Finish with toasted sesame seeds and enjoy!
What is Gochugaru? Can I Substitute?
Gochugaru is a coarsely ground Korean red pepper flakes or chili powder, depending on how it’s made. Gochugaru is used frequently in Korean cuisine. It’s a key ingredients in many in dishes including cold salads and kimchi to Korean bbq, stews and braises. It’s bright red in color and has a mildly sweet and smoky flavor.
The heat level ranges from mild to spicy depending on how many seeds are incorporated. In general, gochugaru is about ⅓ as spicy as cayenne.
I don’t recommend substituting gochugaru for something else in this Korean cucumber salad recipe. However, in a pinch you can use cayenne pepper, but start small! I would start with ½ teaspoon and adjust from there.
FAQ & Test Kitchen Tips
Feel free to add a splash of soy sauce. Some recipes also add minced or grated fresh garlic which would be delicious.
Regular cucumbers, also called pole cucumbers, are not ideal for this salad. They’re much higher in water content, have a thick waxy skin and large seeds. If regular pole cucumber are all you can find I recommend peeling the skin, halving lengthwise and removing the seeds before thinly slicing.
I don’t recommend making this Korean cucumber salad ahead of time. It’s so easy to make and comes together quite quickly that the time saving benefit just isn’t there. Things you can do ahead of time include slicing the cucumber and scallion and making the vinaigrette.
Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad
- Toss cucumbers and salt together in a colander; set over a bowl or in sink for 15 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey, sesame oil, and chili flakes.
- Shake colander lightly to shake away excess moisture. Add salted cucumber slices and scallion to bowl with vinaigrette; toss to coat.
- Season with additional salt and gochugaru to taste. Finish with sesame seeds and serve.