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Spicy Smoky Sour Cucumber Salad…and a Giveaway!

In my kitchen, cucumbers are always the bridesmaid, never the bride. They find their way into so many of my salads, and play supporting roles in soups and even cockails (working on a sake-ginger martini…). But still, I’ve never been one to swoon over a dish composed entirely of cucs. In my mind, it’d be like eating a bowl of nothing but tofu. Meh. Where’s the good stuff?

I hope cucs can forgive me for overlooking their star power. In this salad, this humble combination, cucumbers need no company. In fact, what makes this salad great is that without the dominating flavors and textures of their usual salad accompaniments, the cucumbers can really shine. Their fresh crunch provides a perfect canvas for an addictively spicy dressing of lime juice, hoisin sauce, chopped scallions, and the real magic — freshly ground chili powder. Subtlety has no place in this dish. The combination is at once sour and salty, tongue-lashingly spicy and utterly clean. Make enough for two, and I guarantee just you will eat it all.

There were several inspirations behind this salad. 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 this week 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.

ALSO: After nearly three years of blogging, the time has finally come: I’m doing a giveaway on the blog! better late than never, right? The wonderful folks at Marx Foods sent over a chili sampler, which is where I got the smoked serranos for this salad. They’ve graciously offered to send one lucky reader a chili sampler as well. Leave a comment sharing your favorite use for chilies, and I’ll pick a commenter at random on Monday, June 14th to get the sampler. Good luck — I can’t wait to hear your favorite chili recipes! Wow, you guys rock! Love these recipe ideas. Mango-jicama salad with chiles? Yes, please!

The giveaway has ended, and our lucky winner is commenter #1. Congrats, Natalie! I’ll email you with the information about your free chile sampler. Enjoy, and thanks everyone for participating!

Spicy Smoky Sour Cucumber Salad
serves 2, questionably

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.

1 Japanese or (small) English seedless cucumber, or 3-4 small Mediterranean cucumbers; aim for 6 oz. total
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions (I needed 1 long scallion for this)
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon flavorless oil, such as grapeseed or safflower
1/2-1 teaspoon freshly-ground chili (see note)
1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

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 about it. Salad will be ready to eat in about….now.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Natalie Whatley June 9, 2010,

    My favorite way to use chilis is in my homemade queso! 🙂 YUM!

  • Lori June 9, 2010,

    What a great use of cucumbers! So different from the standard fridge pickles and cucumber salads we have around here. I’ll definitely be trying it when our cucumbers start to come on in the garden.

    My all time favorite chili is the birds eye chili in Thai cuisine. I can’t get enough of green papaya salad with maybe 2 or 3 of those thrown in if I’m brave. Since I don’t get those around here, chipotles come in second. I love using them in spreads and condiments for veggie sandwiches.

  • I’ve recently discovered how wonderful cucumbers are as the base of a salad, too! They make a very light and tasty summery side dish. Love the seasoning you used on this one!


  • Daktari June 9, 2010,

    My favorite use is in chili brownies. A little punch of chili powder (chipolte is my favorite) and it really gives chocolate a kick.

  • Bacey June 9, 2010,

    I make a great chicken chili that uses a variety of roasted chiles.

  • grace June 10, 2010,

    how do i love chilis? let me count the ways. actually, don’t let me count–we’d be here all day. 🙂
    soups, dips, desserts–there’s no limit!

  • Melissa June 10, 2010,

    Yum! Definitely going to have to try this the next time we make gyoza. Usually we just do edamame, but with summer, I’m excited to try this once our cucumbers grow.

    We actually use chilis in our gyoza filling, and of course in curries and chili. I’m hoping to make some pickles this summer with garlic and chilies too!

  • Anonymous June 10, 2010,

    Kimchi! But also in everything else.

    My cousin, btw, planted 42 pepper plants and nothing else in his back garden this year. The love of this spice is clearly heritable.

  • Chelsea June 10, 2010,


  • kitty June 10, 2010,

    I made a version of this last night, inspired by your love of it… but I missed several key pieces, so I think I’d make this again with the smoked chili powder!

  • E. Weaver June 10, 2010,

    Lately, I’ve been on a grilling kick-so marinades, sauces, and rubs have been top of my list for using chili peppers. I’d love to have a variety to play with!

  • Shawnda June 10, 2010,

    I’ve just discovered Mexican Grilled Corn on the Cob so… ground, mixed with lime juice and homemade mayo, and then slathered on corn and grilled.

    • rivka June 10, 2010,

      Hey Shawnda, this corn recipe sounds like something served at Kampuchea, one of my fave NYC spots that serves Cambodian street food. Amazing.

  • Adrienne June 11, 2010,

    Your cucumbers look delicious! My favorite way to use chilis is in salsa – there’s a recipe in the ball blue book that I made 6 pints of, Adam ate them ALL within 2 months. I’ll have to put up more this year!

  • Lisa June 12, 2010,

    My favorite way to use chilis is in salsa.

  • Bethany June 12, 2010,

    My favorite thing to do with chiles is stick them in a bottle of vodka for a week, then make a bloody mary. Amazing with Thai bird chiles!!!

  • andrea June 12, 2010,

    I love putting chipotle and other spices in a dark chocolate brownie. a little cardamom and some cinnamon really bring out the chipotle and chocolate flavors!

  • Sallie June 13, 2010,

    Just a bit in Hollandaise sauce. Kicks it up a bit and makes it really interesting.

  • Hannah June 13, 2010,

    Sounds delicious!

  • Trinity June 14, 2010,

    I like chilis on my fruit and veggies- one of my faves is jicama, mango, cucumber salad with loads of chili, lime juice, and salt. Also, I dig chili powder on my roasted potatoes.

  • Lara June 14, 2010,

    I love chilis! I recently discovered a new love for sriracha sauce. I’ve been squeezing it on everything! I also love to add chili powder to ground beef, turkey, guacamole, you name it!

  • Erica June 14, 2010,

    I love using fresh chilis in my stir fry. Usually weighted tofu, onions, garlic, vegetables (whatever is in season), honey, teriyaki sauce and chilis, I like it spicy!