Spicy Cucumber Onion Salad

Upgrade a cucumber-onion salad with the flavors of chili crisp and sesame oil.

Spicy Cucumber Onion Salad
Photo: Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living
Active Time:
5 mins
Total Time:
5 mins
Servings:
6

While cucumber and onion salads couldn't be more Southern, they also appear in all sorts of other cuisines, from Indian raitas to Greek salads. This refreshing combo lends itself to experimentation, and for this version, we leaned into Asian flavors, including toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and chili crisp, for both spice and crunch.

The dressing is easy to whip up and stash in the fridge to use on any number of salads or vegetables, but it seems to pair especially well with crunchy cucumber slices and sweet Vidalia onion. Make the dressing ahead, and toss with the vegetables at the last minute for maximum texture on your cukes and onions.

This salad can also be used as a garnish on chilled peanut noodles, or as a unique substitute for coleslaw on your next pulled pork sandwich. Be sure to use toasted sesame oil here, not regular—and taste for freshness. Sesame oil can go rancid fairly quickly, especially if your pantry leans warm.

If you like a vinegary cucumber salad, try this Marinated Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion Salad instead.

Ingredients for Cucumber Onion Salad

Sesame Oil
Sesame oil provides a backbone of nuttiness and warmth to the dressing. It's distinct in how it helps to ground the spicy ingredients and sharpens the brightness of the onions and cucumbers. We love to use sesame oil in place of vegetable oils as a last-minute flavoring agent for roasting vegetables and stir-fries.

ingredients for Spicy Cucumber Onion Salad
Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living

Soy Sauce
In place of salt, this cucumber onion salad uses soy sauce. It provides that kick of salt but also a hint of umami depth. Tamari, a thicker, more rich soy sauce, is even better here. But if you don't have it on hand or can't find it at the store, soy sauce will work just fine.

Chili Crisp
A star pupil in the culinary world right now, chili crisp is popping up in all kinds of dishes, from tacos to frittatas. It's an especially good ingredient in this cucumber onion salad dressing because it has a just-right hit of heat and tang with a subtle sweetness that takes a bit of the sting off. Plus, it has crunchy bits of peppercorns, garlic, scallions, and other ingredients. They're a nice surprise in this salad.

Ginger and Sugar
Ginger and sugar have two different purposes: Ginger provides an aromatic tone to the dressing, and sugar helps to mellow out the bite of the chili crisp and soy sauce. But together, they round out this dressing into an all-purpose sauce that you'll probably want to keep on hand for any number of uses after you try it the first time.

English Cucumbers
We prefer English cucumbers or seedless cucumbers for this cucumber onion salad. They're more tender and won't leave you spitting out lots of crunchy bits. For the best experience, peel them, cut the cucumbers in half, and slice them into half moons. This lets more of the dressing penetrate the cukes for the best flavor.

Vidalia Onions
It wouldn't be a Southern cucumber and onion salad without Vidalias, now would it? You can use any sweet onion you want, but we prefer sweet over red or white because it has a less aggressive bite. If you like that red onion punch, go for it. It'll be delicious, too.

Garnishes
Though optional, we like finishing off this cucumber salad with scallions and sesame seeds. The scallions provide a nice hit of herby tang to help brighten the salad, and the sesame seeds double down on the nuttiness of the sesame oil. All in all, they help balance the cucumber onion salad for a perfect side.

How to Make Spicy Cucumber Onion Salad

The great thing about this recipe is just how easy it is to make. If you have a few minutes to chop the cucumbers and onions, everything can come together quickly.

Step 1. Combine dressing ingredients

spicy dressing for cucumber onion salad
Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living

In a small bowl, combine the sesame oil, soy sauce, chili crisp, ginger, and sugar. Whisk well until combined and the sugar is dissolved. If you want, you can put the dressing in a jar right now and save it for later. This sauce will last up to one week in the fridge.

Step 2. Combine dressing, cucumbers, and onions

combining cucumbers with dressing
Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living

To a large bowl with the cucumber halves and onion pieces, pour the dressing. Gently toss and fold until the dressing is coating the cucumber and onions evenly. If the salad is going to sit for a few minutes before it's served, go ahead and toss it again just before spooning it out so you get more dressing in each bite.

Step 3. Garnish

Spicy Cucumber Onion Salad garnished
Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living

As mentioned, the garnishes of scallions and sesame seeds are optional, but we really think you'll appreciate how they round out this cucumber and onion salad. If you're serving to a crowd, you could always leave them in small bowls and tell folks to garnish if they desire.

What to Serve With Cucumber Onion Salad

Though we called upon flavor influences from several regional Asian cuisines to make this cucumber onion salad, you don't have to limit yourself to serving this with similarly influenced recipes. This recipe would be a delicious alternative to a more traditional cucumber salad as a side to roasted or barbecue chicken. Or serve it in place of coleslaw at your next barbecue. Better yet, make it on a weeknight and serve it as a garnish on grain bowls, quiches, salads, and more.

Can You Make Cucumber Onion Salad Ahead of Time?

Leftovers will last up to four days in the fridge, and while they will lose some texture, they will pick up more flavor from the dressing. But for the best texture, don't make this cucumber onion salad more than a day in advance.

Editorial contributions by Kimberly Holland.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup toasted sesame oil

  • 1 ½ Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari

  • ½ - 1 Tbsp. chili crisp (like Fly By Jing Szechuan)

  • ½ tsp. freshly grated ginger

  • ½ tsp. sugar

  • 2 large English or seedless cucumbers, peeled, halved, and sliced into half-moons ¼-inch thick

  • 1 medium Vidalia or sweet onion, peeled, quartered, and sliced into ¼-inch thick slices

  • ¼ cup finely sliced scallions, for garnish (optional)

  • 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Mix sesame oil, soy sauce, chili crisp, ginger, and sugar in a large box. Whisk until will combined. Taste for seasoning. (If you like it spicier, add more chili crisp.)

    spicy dressing for cucumber onion salad
    Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living

    Add the cucumber and onion to the dressing, and toss gently to coat.

    combining cucumbers with dressing
    Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living

    Garnish with scallions and toasted sesame seeds before serving.

    Spicy Cucumber Onion Salad garnished
    Hannah Zimmerman/Southern Living
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