Easy Japanese Sesame Cucumber Salad

Are you short on time but want something healthy and satisfying that pairs with just about anything? This Easy Japanese Sesame Cucumber salad can be made in under fifteen minutes and is both ridiculously easy and delicious! It's made with five ingredients and takes fifteen minutes to complete. What could be better?! Cucumbers and red onion are thinly sliced, coated with sesame oil, a splash of rice vinegar, and tossed with toasted black sesame seeds. This salad is so simple and delicious that it will be your new favorite salad or veggie side that keeps popping up in your rotation!
overhead shot of a bowl of sesame cucumber salad

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What is Easy Japanese Sesame Cucumber Salad?

This cold salad is what is called a “quick pickle. Food is submerged in a salted vinegar solution for immediate or fast consumption. Cucumbers and red onion are thinly sliced and tossed in this salad with sesame oil, rice vinegar, salt, and toasted black sesame seeds. The vinegar and salt act as the “pickling” agents breaking down the cucumbers and onions to bring out their natural sweetness to create a crisp crunch. 

What is the difference between quick pickling and pickling?

Quick pickling, which is what we are doing for this salad, is different from pickling, as we are not canning the salad and trying to preserve it for long-term use/storage for several months. For pickling, a heated brine is often made to meld the flavor profiles together, cooled, and then used to preserve vegetables for long-term storage. This salad uses a cold liquid brine of vinegar and salt to pickle and needs to be refrigerated after being made. It is intended for immediate or short-term consumption. 

Is this Easy Japanese Salad considered to be a Sunomono Salad? And what is Sunomono?

Yes, I created this salad as a spin-off of some of my favorite Sunomono salads I’ve eaten in Japanese restaurants! Sunomono is a traditional Japanese dish that consists of raw vegetables that are thinly sliced and marinated in vinegar. 

What is traditional Sunomono made of?

In many Japanese restaurants, the Sunomomo often consists of thinly sliced Japanese cucumbers, wakame seaweed, and sometimes crab meat, pickled with vinegar, soy sauce, salt, and other ingredients tossed with toasted sesame seeds. 

Why I chose to create this Easy Japanese Sesame Cucumber Salad.

I made this salad simpler and with fewer ingredients than the traditional Sunomono explained above. Instead of incorporating seaweed, crab meat, or soy sauce, this salad is super accessible. The main components are cucumber and red onion, and it’s made with only five ingredients in total. This salad is something you can cobble together in a few minutes and can be enjoyed with just about anything. 

Here’s how to make this Easy Japanese Sesame Cucumber Salad 

Rice Vinegar, salt, sesame oil, Black sesame seeds, sliced red onion and cucumbers laying decoratively on a pale blue painted board

Ingredients

Japanese Cucumbers: You can find Japanese cucumbers in most Asian markets. They are long, slender, and have an incredible texture and crunch. If you cannot find this variety, English or Persian cucumbers are fantastic substitutes. 

Red Onion: I love using red onion for its color and subtle sweetness. The vinegar helps to “pickle” the onion and subdue its natural harshness. The key is to slice the onion super thin, so it does not take over or overwhelm the salad.  

Sesame Oil: Always buy a toasted sesame oil with a dark brown color for a richer, nuttier flavor. This oil beautifully coats the vegetables, giving the salad a smooth silkiness and nutty flavor. 

Rice VinegarThis is a semi-sweet vinegar made from fermented rice. The natural sugars from rice are turned into alcohol and then aged and converted into vinegar. The result is perfect for this “quick pickled” salad. The sweetness of the vinegar pairs wonderfully with the red onion and the sesame seeds’ nuttiness. 

Black Sesame Seeds: Black sesame seeds are perfect in this salad because they add a lovely crunch and nuttiness to the pickled vegetables. You can find black sesame seeds already toasted in most Asian markets, making this salad prep even easier! If you cannot find black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds will work as well, and you can always toast them yourself. 

Kosher Salt: Using a high-quality Kosher salt is an absolute MUST for cooking! It will provide a better final product! The salt acts as a “cooking agent” like the vinegar in the recipe. It helps to break down the cucumber and onion and extract water content. Thus, it aids in the “quick pickling process” and helps to bring out the vegetables’ natural sweetness and flavor. 

Needed Equipment 

Cutting board

Chef’s knife

Japanese Mandolin

Cut Resistant Glove for the Mandolin

Set of Stainless Steel or Glass Mixing Bowls

Measuring Spoon Set

Large Chef mixing Spoon

Wooden Salad Mixing Set

Process:

1. Use a Japanese mandolin or a sharp knife to slice the cucumbers into paper-thin rounds. 

cucumbers, cucumber slices and a mandolin
slicing cucumber on a mandolin
mandolin setting beside sliced cucumber

2. Place your red onion on the cutting board and lob off the blossom end. 

pointing to the root of the onion
cutting the root off a red onion
cutting the root off a red onion

3. Place the onion flat side down on the cutting board and cut directly through the root creating two halves. 

 a red onion
cutting a red onion from the root

4. Peel off the skin of both halves and discard. 

cutting a red onion in half

5. Place one half with the flat side down on the board and cut it in half again, slicing directly through the root. 

cutting a red onion
cut red onion on cutting board beside a knife

6. Lob off the root end of one quarter of the onion and reserve. Place the remaining onions in an airtight container in the refrigerator and reserve for another use. (Note: keeping the onion in an airtight container helps prevent the smell from permeating the rest of your refrigerator. It also preserves the shelf-life of the onion, and it can keep in your refrigerator for 3-5 days.)

cutting a red onion

7. Place the quarter of the onion on the mandolin and slice into paper-thin paper pieces. Again, if you do not have a mandolin, try to slice the onion as thin as possible with your knife. 

slicing a red onion on a mandolin

8. Place the sliced cucumber and onion in a large glass or stainless-steel mixing bowl.

cucumbers, and red onion in a glass bowl

9. Add the measured sesame oil, rice vinegar, black sesame seeds, and salt. 

sesame oil being added to cucumbers, and red onion in a glass bowl
vinegar being added to cucumbers, and red onion in a glass bowl
black sesame seeds being added to cucumbers, and red onion in a glass bowl
red onion, black sesame seeds, sliced cucumbers and salt in a glass bowl

10. Use a large spoon to mix until well combined. Serve and enjoy. 

cucumber salad in a glass bowl

Tips and tricks for success

Using a mandolin is the easiest and quickest way to make this salad.    

  • Using a mandolin to slice the cucumber thinly and red onion is the easiest and quickest way to get perfectly uniform, thinly sliced vegetables. 
  • I like to use a Japanese mandolin. It is one of my most prized and essential kitchen tools. I practically use it every day! 
  • You must be careful and methodical when using such a tool not to harm your fingers, as all mandolins are incredibly sharp. 
  • My advice is to work slowly and get comfortable with the tool. 
  • If you are uncomfortable using a mandolin, you can work with the same precision and care to achieve a similar result with a knife. 

Because you only use one-quarter of the red onion, it’s best to slice through the root to keep all the layers intact. 

  • It is instructed above to take the onion and lob off the blossom end. Then, place the onion on the flat side down and slice directly through the root. Place the one-half flat side down, and slice directly through the root again to make a quarter. You are using this one quarter for the salad and will slice off the root end of the quarter to slice it on the mandolin. 
  • However, the onion half and other quarter piece of onion still hold the root. Thus, keeping the root intact will hold all the layers and flavor together and help when cutting the onion for future use! 

Buy already toasted sesame seeds 

I always keep toasted sesame seeds (black and white) in my pantry!! It saves you time, hassle, and fear of burning them in your toaster oven. You can usually find them pre-toasted in most Asian markets. Trust me; they are a complete game-changer for your panty!

FAQs

What to serve with this Easy Japanese Sesame Cucumber Salad?

This salad pairs with just about anything! I love to accompany this salad with a simple protein of seared fish, chicken, or steak. It can also stand on its own and be eaten as a quick lunchtime salad.

How to cut Japanese cucumbers for this salad?

As explained above, the easiest way to slice the cucumbers into paper-thin rounds is by using a mandolin. By using a mandolin, you get uniform pieces in a quick and efficient amount of time.

Is this salad considered to be a pickled dish?

Yes, this salad is a “quick pickle.” This means that it uses a cold brine of salt and vinegar and is meant to be eaten immediately or in the short term.

What is rice vinegar, and where can I find it in the grocery store?

Rice vinegar is a semi-sweet vinegar made from fermented rice. The natural sugars from rice are turned into alcohol and then aged and converted into vinegar. Rice vinegar can be found in the ethnic section in most common supermarkets or any Asian market. There are usually many kinds of rice vinegar. I always buy the ones that say, “not seasoned.” Unseasoned means there is no extra sodium or seasoning.

What is toasted sesame oil, and where can I find it in the grocery store?

Toasted sesame oil means the sesame seeds are toasted and made into oil. You can find sesame oil that is untoasted and made from processing raw seeds. I ALWAYS buy toasted sesame oil because it has a richer and nuttier flavor! You can find toasted sesame oil in the oil section of most common supermarkets or any Asian market.

What is the difference between black and white sesame seeds?

White sesame seeds are hulled, removing the outer protective layer that is black. Black sesame seeds are not hulled. They have a similar flavor, but black sesame seeds taste slightly richer and are a bit more nutritious because they have extra nutrients found in that outer layer. 

What do black sesame seeds taste like?

Black sesame seeds have a rich, slightly oilier, and fragrant flavor. 

Variations

 Suggested Meal Pairings

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BEAUTY Sesame Cucumber Salad 1200

Easy Japanese Sesame Cucumber Salad

This Asian-inspired quick salad is one of my absolute favorites because it's outrageously easy to make, has a wonderful texture, and pairs with any protein! The thinly sliced cucumbers and red onion are "quick pickled" in rice vinegar and sesame oil and coated with toasted black sesame seeds. Make this salad in under 15 minutes and continue with your day.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 12 mins
Total Time 12 mins
Course Salads, Vegan, Vegetable Sides
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 2 people
Calories 139 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 Cutting board
  • 1 Chef's Knive
  • 1 Mandolin
  • 1 Cut Resistant Glove for the Mandolin
  • 1 Set of Stainless Steel Bowls
  • 1 Measuring Spoon Set
  • 1 Large Chef mixing Spoon
  • 1 Wooden Salad Mixing

Ingredients
  

Cucumber Salad

  • 2 Japanese cucumbers, (English or Persian cucumbers will work as well, thinly sliced into rounds)
  • ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2.5 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp black sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt

Instructions
 

Cucumber Salad

  • Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  • Season to taste with salt.

Notes

Using a mandolin is the easiest and quickest way to make this salad.    
  • Using a mandolin to slice the cucumber thinly and red onion is the easiest and quickest way to get perfectly uniform, thinly sliced vegetables. 
  • I like to use a Japanese mandolin. It is one of my most prized and essential kitchen tools. I practically use it every day! 
  • You must be careful and methodical when using such a tool not to harm your fingers, as all mandolins are incredibly sharp. 
  • My advice is to work slowly and get comfortable with the tool. 
  • If you are uncomfortable using a mandolin, you can work with the same precision and care to achieve a similar result with a knife. 
 
Because you only use one-quarter of the red onion, it’s best to slice through the root to keep all the layers intact. 
  • It is instructed above to take the onion and lob off the blossom end. Then, place the onion on the flat side down and slice directly through the root. Place the one-half flat side down, and slice directly through the root again to make a quarter. You are using this one quarter for the salad and will slice off the root end of the quarter to slice it on the mandolin. 
  • However, the onion half and other quarter piece of onion still hold the root. Thus, keeping the root intact will hold all the layers and flavor together and help when cutting the onion for future use! 
 
Buy already toasted sesame seeds.
  • I always keep toasted sesame seeds (black and white) in my pantry!! It saves you time, hassle, and fear of burning them in your toaster oven. You can usually find them pre-toasted in most Asian markets. Trust me; they are a complete game-changer for your panty!

Nutrition

Calories: 139kcalCarbohydrates: 13gProtein: 3gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gSodium: 298mgPotassium: 480mgFiber: 2gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 316IUVitamin C: 9mgCalcium: 92mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Asian cucumber salad, cold Japanese cucumber salad, cucumber salad, easy asian cucumber salad, Japanese cucumber salad
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Sarah blair

Adding a generous dose of enthusiasm, excitement, and creativity to the culinary world, Sarah began her career at the French Culinary Institute in NYC. Sarah has worked for the past decade as a Culinary Producer and Food Stylist.

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