There were several inspirations behind this salad, which is at once sour and salty, tongue-lashingly spicy and utterly clean. First, the buns at Momofuku, which come with a few slices of pickled cucumber, a dab of hoisin, and a generous squirt of sriracha. The combination is like crack, and I had it in mind in creating this dish. Second, a salad I saw in NYMag that combined cucumbers with lime juice and fresh chili powder, which lodged itself in my mind. Third, David Chang’s ginger scallion noodles, also from Momofuku, in which the scallions essentially become the dressing. It was a brilliant idea, and the scallions in this dish have a similar effect. I could go on about what caused me to make this dish, but once you make it, you really won’t care. You’ll be making a B-line for the kitchen to get some more. ***Note: The freshly ground chili is what makes this recipe great. If you use the jarred stuff, your salad may taste a bit like sawdust. Just sayin’. In terms of how much chili to use, you’ll have to taste and adjust, as heat is clearly a matter of preference. I used two smoked serrano chilies, which have a moderate level of heat. They’re certainly not mild. Ground, they amounted to about 1.5 teaspoons. I added the chili slowly, starting with 1/2 teaspoon and working up to the level that tasted best. You should do the same. If you want to use a milder chili, try ancho (smoked poblano) or something else smoked; that smoky flavor is key. - Rivka —Rivka
Test Kitchen Notes
Because this recipe was inspired by the pork buns at Momofuku -- where they rely on a generous slathering of hoisin to cut through the fatty pork belly -- I imagined a sweet pickle. But these aren't especially sweet -- just as Rivka says, they're cleanly smoky and sour, and as spicy as you want them to be. Be sure to use a quality dried chile, which sets the tone for the entire dish. - Merrill
Japanese or (small) English seedless cucumber, or 3-4 small Mediterranean cucumbers; aim for 6 oz. total
finely chopped scallions (I needed 1 long scallion for this)
flavorless oil, such as grapeseed or safflower
freshly-ground chili (see note)
salt, or more to taste
In This Recipe
Combine all ingredients except cucumbers in a medium bowl, starting with 1/2 teaspoon of chili and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Taste and adjust heat and salt levels according to your preference.
Trim ends of cucumbers, and slice into thin coins, 1/8-inch thick if possible. Don’t fret if some are slightly thicker than others; call it textural contrast. Add to bowl with dressing and toss to combine. That’s it. Salad will be ready to eat in about….now.
I'm a healthcare consultant by day, food blogger by night, and I make a mean veggie chili. I'm eat a mostly-vegetarian diet, but have a soft spot for meat, especially braised short ribs. And this profile wouldn't be complete without an admission that I absolutely am addicted to cookies and chocolate. Finally, I love the idea of food52 and can't wait to share and read my and others' favorite recipes!