Is it hot where you are? We’ve been living through a heat wave and even thinking about turning on the stove makes me hot. Of course it doesn’t stop me from doing crazy things like making cheesy potato balls, but I still prefer cooling, no-cook dishes when I can. And when it gets super hot, I turn to my favorite cooling dish of all time: the cucumber salad.
I LOVE cucumbers. They’re crunchy, almost sweet, juicy, and so refreshing. Especially when they’re fridge-cold and coated in an addictive sesame-soy dressing. Cucumbers are the ideal hot-weather food and Chinese smashed cucumber salad is the epitome of the whole cool-as-a-cucumber saying. Smashed cucumber salad is one of the most popular cold dishes in China and really, it’s no surprise because it’s great on its own or at the table alongside pretty much any Chinese dish.
Essentially this is your classic smashed cucumber salad but with a little twist: avocados. I love adding avocados for a creamy buttery foil to the crisp cucumbers. Everything gets dressed up in a toasted sesame-soy sauce-black vinegar dressing that is savory, sweet, and addictive.
Why cucumber avocado salad?
This is the perfect quick and easy salad to throw together when you’re hungry but you don’t want to cook anything. The crisp cucumbers are crunchy and refreshing and the avocados add heft and creaminess. You might not think of salads as satisfying, but this one definitely is.
Ingredients for the perfect cucumber avocado salad
- Cucumbers. The best cucumbers to use for this salad are either long English or Persian. Both of these cucumbers are thin-skinned which means you don’t have to peel them. They also happen to be nearly seedless and crispy instead of watery. English cucumbers are bit bigger, both in diameter and length. I actually prefer Persian cucumbers because they’re mini, but both are perfect for this salad. Stay away from regular waxy, thick-skinned cucumbers. Usually cucumbers are smashed for Chinese cucumber salad – I typically smash all cucumbers for salads but in this case, I just sliced them for aesthetic reasons. The reason for smashing are the coarse, random craggily edges smashing gives. The extra nooks and crannies soak up sauce and flavor the cucumbers to the core. To smash, just use the side of a cleaver or a rolling pin.
- Avocados. Avocados are annoying. There, I’ve said it. They’re finicky, can be expensive, and every single one is a surprise. But, they’re also worth it. There’s a reason why avocados are so popular. I always buy avocados unripe and ripen them at home to ensure better success when cutting into them. More on how to choose perfect avocados later in this post.
- Soy sauce. There are so, so many soy sauces out there. I could write a whole blog post on soy sauce! Most good Asian grocery stores devote a whole aisle to the hundreds of different types. Obviously the best one is the one in your pantry, but if you’re running out or want to expand your soy sauce collection, make sure you go for naturally brewed. There are two main types of soy sauces commercially available: naturally brewed/fermented and chemically produced. Get the naturally brewed or fermented for its complex deep aroma and flavor. We like both Amoy and Lee Kum Kee. In this case, you’re looking for light soy sauce. Even better if you get first extract/first press soy sauce.
- Chinese black vinegar. Black vinegar, also known as Zhenjiang or Chinkiang vinegar is a rice based vinegar that is fruity, slightly sweet, malty, and just the bit reminiscent of balsamic. It adds acidity and sweetness and is a backbone in Chinese cooking. It’s used in cold appetizers (like this one!), braised proteins, and as a dipping sauce for dumplings. You can use it just as you would regular vinegar and it’ll add just a touch more complexity. It’s sold in the Asian aisle at most grocery stores, in your local Asian grocery store, or online. If you don’t have any, you can sub rice vinegar or regular white vinegar, but it won’t be quite the same.
- Toasted sesame oil. Toasted sesame oil will add an incredible amount of aroma to this dish. It’s intensely nutty, toasty, and so so good. It’s not the same as regular sesame oil (which is typically used for cooking). Toasted sesame oil is made from toasted sesame seeds and is a finishing oil, much like a really good olive oil. Our favorite brand is the Japanese one, Kadoya, with its signature bottle shape and yellow cap. You can find it in the Asian aisle at most grocery stores, in your local Asian grocery store, or online.
- Aromatics. Garlic, red onion, and cilantro add some extra oomph to this salad. The earthiness of the garlic and the tart sharpness of the red onion pair well with the neutral juiciness of cucumbers. For garlic, we like to buy loose, locally grown garlic, but obviously those garlic bulbs in the little mesh bags will work too, but they don’t taste nearly as good. Choose a red onion that is firm and heavy for its size. Cilantro is one of those herbs that adds an amazing amount of freshness, so pile it on – assuming your one of those people who loves it.
How to pick the perfect avocado
Ahh, the eternal question: will you win the avocado lottery!? There are so many factors. Will your avocado be perfectly ripe? Will it blemish and bruise free? Will the pit be a reasonable size or will it be bigger than you thought possible?
Buy unripe: While there’s no way to guarantee a perfect avocado, I do have tips for you. I prefer to buy my avocados green and hard and let them ripen at home. Yes, you have to do a little bit of planning, but if you buy your avocados unripe it means that they won’t have any nasty bruises from people over-enthusiastically squeezing for ripeness at the grocery store.
Let ripen on the countertop: After a couple of days of resting time out on the counter, your avocados will most likely be ripe but not mushy, perfectly jade green without any hints of brown bruising. When you hold your avocado in your palm, it will feel heavy. Gently squeeze your palm without squeezing your fingertips. There should be a bit of give where the avocado yields to firm gentle pressure. It will feel slightly soft but not at all mushy. This is the prime time to use them! If you’re not ready to eat them store them in the fridge for a day or two.
Check ripeness: Another way to check is flicking off their little dry stem nubbin (also called their naval or belly button!) and take a look at what color it is underneath. If it’s bright green, I know it’s good to go. If the stem doesn’t want to budge, it means that it needs a bit more time. And if it’s gross and brown underneath, it’s basically time to cry, cut off the brown bits and make some sad not-quite-right guacamole.
How to safely cut and peel an avocado
Avocado hand – that’s where you slice through your hand – is real. Don’t cut avocados in your hand, I beg of you! I could tell you the horror story about how I “filleted” my palm, in the words of the urgent care doctor that glued me back together, but I think we’re all adults here and just want to cut avocados the safe way.
The safest way to cut an avocado is to place the avocado on a cutting board and cut lengthwise, in the middle carefully, rotating around the seed, keeping your fingers out of the way. Twist half of the avocado off and remove. Place the remaining half (with the pit) on a dish towel and VERY carefully tap your knife into the pit so that it wedges itself in. Twist the knife and remove the pit. This is slightly more dangerous than the method below.
Alternatively, if you’re not comfortable removing the pit from half an avocado, simply make another cut, lengthwise around the halved avocado so you have two quarters, making the pit easy to pluck out with your fingers. This is the safest way to remove the pit.
After the pit is removed, the neatest way to get your avocado out of the skin is to place the avocado, cut side down on to your cutting board and peel off the skin. Of course if you’re not concerned about aesthetics you can just use a spoon to scoop it out.
Happy salad-days of summer!
I hope you guys pop this cucumber avocado salad into your summer rotation. It really is the best.
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 tsp black Chinese vinegar or rice vinegar
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 chili oil optional
- 1 avocado sliced
- 1/2 English cucumber sliced
- 1/4 red onion thinly sliced
- fresh cilantro chopped
- toasted sesame seeds
In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili oil (if using). Taste and season with a pinch of salt if needed.
Prep the vegetables: Pit, peel, and slice the avocado; cut the cucumber; slice the red onion; and chop the cilantro.
Toss the cucumbers, avocado, red onion, and cilantro in a bowl with the dressing. Finish with toasted sesame seeds, if desired and enjoy!
Chinese Cucumber Avocado Salad
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 219
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 4.8g30%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.