Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid's Spicy Cucumber Salad

July 25, 2012

Every week -- often with your help --  FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Cucumbers evade heavy brines and thick cream dressings, and find a brighter future.

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When it gets hot, the cucumbers come out to play. (And not a moment too soon -- last week, the sky was so hot over New York that it literally exploded.)


So often we forget to celebrate the sweet traits of cucumbers, their clean taste and unflagging pep, and we turn them into little more than a crunchy vehicle for vinegary brines or creamy dressings. Those can be delicious, but cucumbers have a flavor too, one that can be glossed up without paving over.

In Hot Sour Salty Sweet, Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford -- authors of six cookbooks born from their travels through Asia -- published a genius recipe that does just that.

Hot, Sour, Salty Sweet Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford

I learned about this understated salad from food writer Lauren Shockey, who knows a few things about traipsing through Asia collecting recipes  herself.

"It differs from other cucumber salads primarily in the light oily dressing that coats the vegetables. It's still light, but has that sort of glistening slickness to it as well, whereas most cucumber salads are stoic and all vinegar, or are leadened with mayo," Shockey explains. "This falls somewhere right in the middle."

Want to see? Here's how it comes together, in not much more time than it takes to slice a cucumber.

Cucumber  Cucumber

You peel your cucumber in zebra stripes and seed it if you like, then crush it lightly to breach its defenses and allow the dressing to filter in. Duguid and Alford say to bash it with the side of a knife, and how you interpret "bash" will depend on your priorities: fun vs. cleanup. I have a tiny, cluttered kitchen, and although I like attacking things, I find enough wayward clumps of food on the walls. A slow, nonchalant lean against the side of a knife works too.

From there, the dressing happens in two stages: first, a sprinkling of rice vinegar and sugar.

cucumber salad

Then a wok-fired chili oil that clangs with three kinds of pepper: Sichuan, dried red chiles, and fresh serrano. You pour it on while it's still sizzling and the cucumbers drink it in.


Cilantro tumbles in too and the cucumbers are officially surrounded by bright splashy flavors, none so much to steal the show.

You can eat it right away -- with some grilled fish or lamb with cumin, perhaps -- or it can sit around in the fridge for a few days as a mellow pickle to snack on. It'll stay crunchy. It's also good for tempering spicier food -- the rush of cold cucumber helps you keep going when your Gong Bao Chicken is making you pant and sweat.

Either way, don't forget -- cucumbers just want to have fun. And look how much fun they're having!

Cucumber Salad

Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid's Spicy Cucumber Salad

Adapted very slightly from Hot Sour Salty Sweet (Artisan Books, 2000)

Serves 4 as a salad or as one of many dishes in a rice meal

1 large or 2 medium European cucumbers
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (if using seasoned rice vinegar, omit the sugar)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
5 Thai dried chiles, or 3 for milder heat
1/2 jalapeno, minced
7 Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup packed torn cilantro leaves

See a slideshow and the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • emedoutlet
  • Foodiewithalife
  • gingerroot
  • newkiwi
  • PhilipB
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


emedoutlet August 11, 2012
I am a great fan of cucumber. I eat raw everyday as a snack or as a side dish with meal. Your is a simple and quite interesting recipe. I will give it a try.

By the way, can we add some more veggies into this? Let me give this also a try... I will be back with the taste of this also.

Thanks for the recipe.
Foodiewithalife July 30, 2012
What a great recipe! I bet it would be great with basil or mint as well.

gingerroot July 29, 2012
Hot Sour Salty Sweet is one of my absolute favorite cookbooks. This salad is wonderful and it comes together in a snap. We enjoyed it as a side to Midge's Okonomiyaki and it turned out to be a lovely pairing - a delicious study in contrasts.
newkiwi July 26, 2012
Anxious to try this recipe, I clicked "print," and received EIGHT pages! consisting of all the intro paragraphs, all the photos and a couple of ads. I did manage to get the recipe, plus seven pages to throw into the recycle bin. What a waste! Is it me or your Web site?
Kristen M. July 26, 2012
Sorry about that -- the best place to print from is the recipe page here (also linked above):

It should be in a much more printer-friendly format (and have the whole recipe).
PhilipB July 26, 2012
Can't help but wonder what Lauren Shockey means when she writes, "... most cucumber salads are stoic ...". Food writers sometimes say the most ridiculous things. Good for a laugh, though, while enjoying my cucumbers. Reminds me of Posh Nosh:
Joy (. July 26, 2012
Love this idea for cucumbers! I can't find all the chilies here in Turkey, but I will make the best substitutions I can.
zieker July 25, 2012
Cucumbers have been a staple in our family for generations (my older sister swears that pickles are still a "green vegetable"!) so I always love a new recipe to try. This one looks fantastic.

Kristen, 2 questions:
1. Any idea of what to do with Cucumber Lime Vodka? I'm stumped.
2. Do you have any good recipes using the big, curly, sweet Asian cukes (or are they melons?) My neighbor's garden is overflowing and I've never tried these before.

Thanks!! — Hmmmmm... a Pimm's Cup would be so nice right about now.
Kitchen K. July 26, 2012
A Cucumber, Lime, Basil Martini perhaps? And I've actually infused vodka with the snake melon. Cool and grassy. I thought they were Armenian, but maybe we're thinking of different cukes. Enjoy!
Kristen M. July 26, 2012
1. How about a gimlet? Or a Bloody Mary with fresh tomato juice/water, to keep the flavors light?
2. No, wish I did! Kitchen Konfidence's idea is great.
zieker July 29, 2012
Thanks for the ideas KK and Kristen. The vodka is just kind of "strange", but in a good way, just not for sipping. Will experiment and post any notable results.

As for the "cuke/melon"... KK!! Thanks for the proper identity of this thing: Snake Melon. We had no clue what they were called. LOL Should be ripe for picking this week so it'll be fun to also experiment with. May have to call in the "Big Guns" (aargersi) on this one.
Summer O. July 25, 2012
This recipe shows up regularly at our table.
Dconstantinople July 25, 2012
Am desperately looking for a yummy cold cucumber soup- hopefully using yogurt rather than a lot of cream-
Kristen M. July 25, 2012
I've got the perfect post for you, Dconstantinople:
Trillinchick July 25, 2012
I would surrender a favorite cooking tool for a recipe that displaysthe coolness of cucumbers without the heat ( or cilantro!). Consuming cucumbers has surprising calming effect - and is a natural remedy for lowering blood pressure. Probably my favorite way to serve cucumbers was Granpa's creation. Slice cukes thinly (peel optional according to preference). Put in a smallish bowl with a little crushed ice. Pour in red wine vinegar and shake a good shake of black pepper. So welcome in hot weather, especially, and delish!
carol_tanenbaum July 25, 2012
I've eaten this salad all over Asia, and treasure my Alford/Duguid cookbooks. Thanks for reminding me to make this again!
Christina @. July 25, 2012
Sounds/looks great, but I'd omit the sugar.
student E. July 25, 2012
I love their cookbooks and am thrilled to see on of their recipes featured here.