Floating Salad

Fresh, crisp, and wonderfully tart—this easy side is perfect for the heat of summer.

a large bowl beside two bowls, all filled with cucumbers, onions, and bell peppers
Photo: Emily Laurae/Southern Living
Active Time:
12 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 12 mins

During a recent trip to Columbia, Mo., my husband and I enjoyed a meal featuring burnt ends at Como Smoke and Fire. While the meat was fantastic, what grabbed our attention most was the floating salad. We both ordered it as a side, despite not being completely sure what it was. When it came to our table, it was indeed what we had hoped it would be: the salad that we each grew up eating all summer long in Mississippi (him in Jackson, me in the Delta).

Floating salad is a deliciously super-tart, super-sharp combo of sliced cucumbers and onions "floating" in a vinegar brine that's not softened with any water, just straight vinegar with a little oil, sugar, salt, and pepper to round out the flavor. There are a few recipes for floating salad online, but they include lots of sugar; that's not the flavor we grew up with, though. Whether our grandmothers or mothers or aunts or family friends made it, it was always puckery and very, very cold; sometimes, if the cook didn't make it far enough in advance to thoroughly chill it, there would be ice cubes floating in the liquid. The version at Como Smoke and Fire included sliced red bell pepper, which was a fantastic addition—a different kind of crunch and more complex flavor.

Ideally, use English or pickling cucumbers for this dish, both of which have thin skins that you don't have to peel. Vidalia onion's sweetness is a lovely foil for the tangy dressing, as is the bell pepper. When you serve this salad, ideally scoop the veggies and some of the liquid into small bowls so that each bite is dripping with sharp vinegar goodness.


  • 1 cup white vinegar

  • 1 cup cider vinegar

  • 3 Tbsp. sugar

  • 3 Tbsp. canola oil

  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

  • ¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 cups thinly sliced English or pickling cucumber

  • 1 medium red bell pepper, trimmed, cut into strips, and strips cut in half 

  • ½ medium (9-oz) Vidalia onion, thinly sliced


  1. Whisk together vinegars, oil, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

    dressing for floating salad

    Emily Laurae / Southern Living

    Add cucumber, bell pepper, and onion; stir well to combine. Refrigerate until fully chilled, at least 2 hours.

    cucumber, onions, and bell peppers in a bowl

    Emily Laurae / Southern Living

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