As a lifelong cucumber fan, I have spent years flummoxed by my own family who would happily never eat cucumber again. It isn’t that they hate them, they just aren’t fans. So, after years of finding myself eating every single cucumber I put out on a veggie platter, I learned my lesson and shifted my focus to making cucumber salads that would truly please everyone. The result: a variety of great cucumber salad recipes that highlight one of my favorite summer vegetables.
How to Make Cucumber Salad
A cucumber salad can be as simple as sliced cucumber tossed with a vinaigrette or any other dressing of your choice (check out our post on homemade salad dressings for some fun options), but there are a number of factors to consider if you want to take a cucumber salad from good to great.
Different Varieties of Cucumber
There are three varieties of cucumbers that are relatively easy to find at grocery stores these days:
These are likely the cucumbers you think of when you think of cucumbers. They have a relatively thick skin and many, large-ish seeds in the core.
These are longer and thinner than traditional cucumber. In addition, they have a slightly thinner skin and fewer and smaller seeds.
These are much smaller than their counterparts and usually come in a pack of 4 – 6 cucumbers. Their skin is much thinner and they have very small seeds. Because they are smaller, these cucumbers tend to be a bit crunchier and have a slightly sweeter taste (less water = a more concentrated flavor).
To Peel, or Not to Peel
When we are talking about whether or not to peel a cucumber, we are most likely talking about the traditional variety as their skins are so much thicker than English or Persian cucumbers. Personally, for both visual and texture reasons, I like to keep the skin on my cucumbers, but many people (including my husband) disagree.
According to my husband, as well as some other people I have asked about this, one of the things that turns them off of cucumbers is the toughness of the skin. Again, this is really traditional cucumbers we are talking about, and sometimes maybe English cucumbers. So, if you have cucumber skeptics in your house, then a great step is to try peeling them to see if that helps.
If, like me, you enjoy the skin and/or the visual appeal of the pale inside and the dark green outside of the cucumber, then there are a couple of things you can do.
One, is you can peel it like a zebra. What I mean by that, is peel the cucumber length-wise but alternate strips of peel on and peel off. This looks very pretty and will help with the texture issue some people experience.
Another is to try the thin-skinned Persian cucumbers. While my family still won’t reach for these plain, they are much happier to eat them in salads and sandwiches than they are the traditional kind.
To Seed, or Not to Seed
Similar to peeling, seeding Persian cucumbers is rarely necessary, but for English and traditional cucumbers removing the seeds from the cucumber can sometimes be worth the effort. For instance, if you are making a salad in which you really want to highlight the crunch of the cucumber, then taking out the seeds can help to do that.
The easiest way to seed a cucumber is to cut it in half length-wise, and then use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds. From there you can then slice or dice the cucumber as desired.
A Balance of Flavors and Textures
There are two reasons why I love cucumbers as much as I do: their crunch and their subtle sweetness. While both of these things make them fun for me to munch on straight, they are also the features that make them a wonderful component in a salad, especially when the other flavors and textures compliment the cucumber.
Here are some ways to make your cucumber salad shine:
Add some salt
The sweetness of cucumbers begs for a salty counterpoint in a salad, which is why, at a minimum, I will add some sea salt. Usually, though, I like to add a salty ingredient such as a salty cheese or soy sauce in the dressing.
Or boost the sweetness
Conversely, adding further sweetness to the salad can also help to bring out the sweetness of the cucumbers. Some fun ways to do that are to add another sweet ingredient such as a fruit or other sweet vegetable, or to add sweetness, like honey, to the dressing.
Highlight the soft and creamy
Because cucumbers are so crunchy, adding something soft and creamy is always a nice way to balance out the salad. This can be done through a softer fruit or vegetable or through a creamy cheese or dressing.
Go all in for crunch
Like with the salty and sweet, the other route to go with texture is all in on the crunch. This can be done by adding crunchy fruits or vegetables or by tossing in some nuts or croutons.
Acidity always helps
Because cucumbers are sweet, it can really brighten the flavor of a salad if you add some acidity. By adding vinegar or citrus juice to the dressing, you can enliven the salad hugely.
Herbs bring it all together
Because cucumbers are pretty neutral tasting, they really benefit from the addition of strong-tasting herbs. Two of my favorites with cucumber are dill and mint.
7 Great Cucumber Salad Recipes
As you start to play with the different flavors and textures you will discover what works best for your family, but here are seven great cucumber salad recipes to get you started.
Japanese-Style Cucumber Salad: this bright, fresh salad uses the acidity and slight sweetness of rice wine vinegar to really let the cucumber shine through.
Avocado, Cucumber, and Tomato Salad: this salad takes advantage of the creaminess of the avocado and the saltiness and acidity in the dressing to really make the cucumber, and the whole salad, shine.
Chopped Cucumber and Avocado Salad: it’s all about the balance between creamy and crunchy with this salad.
Creamy Cucumber Salad: this salad always takes me back to my childhood when my grandmother would make a similar salad. The creaminess of the dressing, paired with the fresh herbs makes this a classic with good reason.
Cucumber Salad with Honey and Feta Cheese: This might be my favorite of the recipes. The creaminess and saltiness of the feta paired with the sweetness of the honey, plus the addition of mint, makes this a truly delightful salad to eat.
Mango, Cucumber, and Lime Salad: This combination of ingredients may sound strange, but it really works! The difference in textures between the mango and cucumber works nicely and then the lime juice draws it all together.
Russian Radish and Cucumber Salad: Crunchy, crunchy, crunchy! This classic is fun to eat, especially because the sweetness of the cucumber and the slight spiciness of the radishes make for a great partnership.
Do you have a favorite cucumber salad or cucumber recipe? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!