Ready for a salad workout? Let me introduce you to Pai Huang Gua, otherwise known as Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad. This simple yet delicious salad is a classic dish in many Asian cuisines. It is made by smashing cucumbers and then tossing them with some Asian favourites for an easy show-stopping salad.
Pai Huang Gua is a classic Chinese cucumber salad recipe that’s beloved for its mix of flavours and texture. It’s tangy, it’s crunchy, and it’s the perfect way to start a meal.
Pai Huang Gua Ingredients
There are several versions of this salad, some without Szechuan peppercorns, some with dried or no chilli instead of fresh, some without garlic, some without coriander/cilantro, some with black vinegar added, as well as rice vinegar.
It is really up to you to decide what to include; we have used -
- Cucumbers - Long English cucumbers are best, or Lebanese/ Persian cucumbers are great.
- Fresh Coriander/ Cilantro -for some fresh citrusy flavour, if you find that cilantro tastes 'soapy', then try some Thai basil or Asian mint instead.
- Long Red Chilli - added for a pop of colour and a touch of heat as they are not as hot as the small lethal chillis that you find, use some finely diced red capsicum/peppers, some hot chillis if you like some added heat, red pepper flakes or just leave them out 🤷🏻♀️.
- Dressing - we have used an Asian-style dressing with sesame oil, soy sauce, seasoned rice vinegar and tamari for vegan or coconut aminos for keto.
You may also use regular rice vinegar or black vinegar but just add a ¼ to ½ teaspoon of sugar to the recipe to sweeten the dressing a little.
Sorry, I am not going to give you a quick fix for this - this simple cucumber salad really needs a smashing dressing!
- Szechuan Peppercorns - not peppercorns at all but dried berries; they are not hot like usual peppers but have a citrusy tang to them that will make your mouth tingle.
You don't want to replace these with traditional black, white or green peppercorns.
Leave them out, or use some pink peppercorns instead.
Consider Adding - - Some toasted sesame seeds or even some black sesame seeds to add some nutty flavour. - Some Asian chilli oil to add some heat and a boost of Asian flavours. Or why not make your own homemade chili oil? It's sensational! - Some crispy fried shallots or crushed peanuts for some satisfying crunch.
How to Make Pai Huang Gua
Why Smash the Cucumbers?
This method of preparing cucumbers is a classic technique used around Asia.
Smashing cucumbers until they burst, cracks their skins, releases the seeds and is a way of allowing your tasty dressing to penetrate every nook and cranny of your cucumber, making them super delicious.
In addition, the different shapes and sizes make for interesting contrasts in texture with every bite.
Step 1 - Smash and Chop the Whole Cucumbers
Wash your cucumbers and pat them dry, then place them on your chopping board.
Then using something heavy such as a cleaver, a food mallet or a rolling pin, whack the cucumbers.
Make sure that they just break apart and burst open, this will allow the dressing to penetrate and make them delicious.
Then cut the cucumber pieces diagonally into small chunks; this way, there is more surface area for your dressing to penetrate.
Place them in a colander, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon sea salt and toss.
Let the cucumbers stand for 20 minutes. We want to draw out some of the liquid so that they are not too watery.
Step 2 - Prep Remaining Ingredients.
In the meantime, wash the chilli, remove the seeds, and then dice finely.
Wash the coriander/cilantro, shake to remove to excess water, pat dry and roughly chop.
Place all dressing ingredients in a glass jar, and shake until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings according to your liking.
Step 3 - Assemble the Salad
After the 20 minutes have passed drain the liquid from the bashed cucumbers.
Pat the cucumbers dry and place them in a large bowl.
Add the diced chilli and coriander/cilantro to the bowl with the smashed cucumbers, pour over the dressing.
Toss your salad well to combine, taste and adjust seasonings according to your preferences.
Arrange in a salad bowl and keep chilled until ready to serve.
Serving Suggestions 🥢🥡
I also love to serve this at family BBQs alongside grilled meats - it's so tasty and refreshing! It's a real crowd-pleaser and always goes down a treat.
For a quick dinner, just grab some roasted duck or char siu pork from an Asian fast-food shop, and you've got yourself a delicious meal. It pairs really well with both!
People Also Ask
Do I Need to Salt the Cucumbers?
Yes, as this is an important step as the salt removes the excess water and concentrates the bright cucumber flavour, it makes them crisp and meaty. The salt will dissolve and allows them to take on a slightly pickley flavour.
What Cucumbers Are Good for Smashing?
The best cucumbers for this salad are either long telegraph/English or Lebanese/Persian cucumbers.
- Telegraph cucumbers also known as English cucumbers are dark green, long and thin with a hook at one end; they are not as watery inside with a more intense cucumber flavour.
- Lebanese cucumbers also known as Persian cucumbers are a sweet, short variety with dark green, thin skin and flesh that is crisp and pale with tiny seeds.
Either variety works in this salad!
Can I Peel the Cucumbers?
Personally, I like to leave the skins on while I am smashing them because it keeps everything compact. You can peel alternative strips if you prefer.
Can I Make This Smashed Cucumber Salad Recipe Ahead of Time?
- If you leave out the garlic to add on the day, the dressing can be made up to a week in advance and kept in a covered container in the fridge.
- I make this salad several hours in advance and keep it chilled in the fridge until I am ready to serve.
- The longer you leave it, the more pickley the cucumbers will become and the tastier your salad will be, as the cucumbers would have absorbed all the delicious flavours from the dressing.
- However, if you want your salad with a bit more crunch, then serve it immediately after making it.
- Because we use extra salt to draw out the water in the cucumbers, the sodium count may be a bit higher than you'd expect. But don't worry - most of the salt is thrown out with the water.
- This salad is suitable for vegan, vegetarian, nut-free and dairy-free eating styles and with a little tweaking, it can be made suitable for all others.
- For keto/low carb, use tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. Swap the seasoned rice vinegar (it has added sugar) for some regular rice vinegar and add a pinch of a keto sweetener instead.
- For gluten-free check, the labels on the soy and rice vinegar as some may have unsuitable additives. Use coconut aminos to make it whole30 and paleo-friendly.
- rolling pin or food mallet
- 500 grams Telegraph/English cucumbers 4 medium or 2 long cucumbers, approximately 17.6 ounces or 1 lb
- ¼ cup coriander/cilantro roughly chopped
- 1 long red chilli finely diced
- ½ teaspoon Sea Salt
- 2 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons MCT or neutral oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil toasted, this is the dark coloured one not the golden
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon ginger freshly grated
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn
- Wash your cucumbers and pat them dry, then place them on your chopping board.
- Then using something heavy such as food mallet or a rolling pin, whack the cucumbers so that they just burst open.
- Cut the cucumbers diagonally into small chunks, this way there is more surface area for your dressing to penetrate.
- Place the cucumbers in a colander sprinkle with ½ teaspoon sea salt and toss, let them stand for 20 minutes. We want to draw out some of the liquid so that the cucumbers are not too watery.
- Wash the chilli, remove the seeds then dice finely. Wash the coriander/cilantro, shake to remove to excess water, pat dry and roughly chop.
- Place all dressing ingredients in a glass jar, shake until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings according to your liking.
- After the 20 minutes have passed drain the liquid from the smashed cucumbers, then pat dry. Place them in a mixing bowl.
- Add the diced chilli and coriander/cilantro, pour over the dressing then toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings according to your preferences.
- Arrange in a salad bowl and keep chilled until ready to serve.