Bursting with bold flavours, these crunchy Chinese pickled cucumbers are refreshing and spicy with a tangy pickled twist. With a quick pickle marinade that takes minutes to mix with a handful of ingredients, you can make this tasty quick pickle recipe up to 3 days ahead and keep it in the fridge for when you need it.
Whether you're planning a special Chinese New Year meal or looking for mouth-watering titbits to serve with drinks, these Asian pickled cucumbers have got you covered. Low calorie and low carb, they’re also perfect for fridge-raid snacking! (Also naturally vegan, gluten-free and nut-free so great for entertaining those with allergies or dietary restrictions!)
This is such a simple recipe but one that I have been meaning to post for a while as it’s so delicious and I use it all the time for entertaining! When you feel like you need an additional side dish but don’t have much time to prepare something, this refreshing and spicy little Asian cucumber salad recipe is your answer!
Why You Will Love This Recipe
- Vegan and gluten-free – not all pickled cucumbers are vegan and gluten-free so check their ingredients carefully. Luckily, I have done this job for you with this recipe!
- Very easy to make – this is such a simple recipe but it is full of flavour!
- Keeps well – can be made at least a day in advance and will happily sit in the fridge for a few days for convenient snacking or lunchboxes!
- Refreshing and crunchy!
These pickled cucumbers taste very different to regular cucumber pickles thanks to the robust Chinese flavours such as black vinegar, soy sauce and sichuan pepper that are so prevalent in Asian cuisine and specifically in Chinese dishes!
They are also different to slow pickled cucumber recipes where the cucumbers sit for weeks pickling in vinegar or salt. Instead of going soft, quick pickles stay firm and juicy so this is a fresher, quicker version with bright flavours, crisp cucumbers and a satisfying juiciness!
Note that this spicy cucumber salad recipe is very similar to a Chinese smashed cucumber salad. I prefer it without the smashed element as I like the cucumbers remaining crunchy and hard rather than soggy around the edges which can happen with the smashed version!
What is black vinegar?
Black vinegar, produced in China, is known for its dark brown colour and its complex flavours. Made in a similar way to the Italian balsamic vinegar, it develops its complexity through being aged for at least 6 months (sometimes years). The key difference with balsamic vinegar is that Chinese black vinegar is made from fermented grains rather than balsamic vinegar’s grape juice.
Is black vinegar gluten-free?
There are in fact four different types of black vinegar that differ depending on which region of China they are from. Some types of black vinegar are made from fermented wheat (those from Shanxi and Sichuan) and are therefore not gluten-free. However, the black vinegar from the city of Zhenjiang is made from fermented sticky rice and is therefore gluten-free. This type of black vinegar is also known as Chinkiang vinegar. Black vinegar from Fujian province is also rice-based but is less commonly found than the Chinkiang vinegar.
There are also black vinegars from Taiwan, Japan and Korea that are rice-based as well, although they have slightly different flavour profiles.
Is there a good substitute for Chinese black vinegar?
If you cannot find any gluten-free black vinegar, you can substitute with rice vinegar mixed with a little balsamic vinegar (about 3:1 ratio). It will not give quite the same flavour profile but it will deliver a similar style and tartness.
For more information about black vinegar, here is a great article from Bon Appetit.
- Persian cucumbers – there are so many different types of cucumbers but traditionally, the best cucumbers for this recipe are the little mini cucumbers that are known as Persian cucumbers (also known as Iranian or Lebanese cucumbers). These are firmer and less watery than regular cucumbers (the long cucumbers known as English cucumbers) and have a thin skin compared to pickling or Kirby cucumbers (which are not suitable).
- If you can only find the long English cucumbers then just leave them salting for longer to draw out more water. (see below for notes on salting). You will also need to cut them into smaller lengths so that they are a similar size to the persian cucumber quarters. Or you could cut them into thin cucumber slices instead, if you prefer!
- Black vinegar – this is a Chinese vinegar that has a very particular flavour (see notes above on black vinegar). Check that it is the rice-based variety that is gluten-free. If you cannot find any gluten-free black vinegar, use a mixture of rice vinegar (or, at a push, white vinegar) and balsamic vinegar (about a 3:1 ratio) as a substitute.
- Gluten-free soy sauce or tamari – regular soy sauce is not gluten-free, but most brands also sell a gluten-free version. Alternatively, use tamari which is a naturally gluten-free Japanese type of soy sauce.
- Toasted sesame oil – you need the toasted kind of sesame oil not plain sesame oil.
- Maple syrup – just a touch of sweetness is needed to balance out the other flavours. Use whichever sweetener you like.
- Dried chilli flakes – adjust the amount and type depending on how spicy you like this salad. You could use regular spicy dried red chillis or a milder dried chilli like ancho chillies for a less spicy flavour. You could also substitute these for red pepper flakes which are commonly used in the U.S.
- Sichuan peppercorns – this gives the salad a really authentic Chinese flavour. Sichuan peppercorns are a rusty reddish colour and taste very different to any other peppercorns with a tingling sensation on the tongue and a fiery, almost liquorice, flavour. Try to find these if you can but just use a half teaspoon of Chinese five spice if you can’t find them.
- Garlic clove – only a little garlic is needed so choose a small garlic clove and crush it really finely so that you don’t bite into a big piece of raw garlic with your cucumber!
- Toasted sesame seeds – if you only have raw sesame seeds, just toast them for a minute or two in a dry frying pan over a high heat, stirring until they go brown.
Please see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post for full list of ingredients and their quantities.
How To Make This Recipe
Step One - Cut the cucumbers
Wash the cucumbers then cut off the ends and slice them into quarters lengthways.
Step Two - Salt the cucumbers
Place the cut cucumbers into a colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle salt over the cucumbers and mix it in with your hands. Leave for 10-15 minutes to draw out some of the water from the cucumber.
Step Three - Rinse the cucumbers and dry
When the cucumbers have released a good amount of juice, rinse them under the tap in the colander to wash off all of the salt.
Pat the cucumbers dry in a clean tea towel or piece of kitchen towel.
Step Four - Make the marinade
Whisk together the marinade ingredients.
Step Five - Marinade the cucumbers
Place the cucumbers into a medium bowl or Tupperware and pour the marinade over them. Mix the whole thing together with a spoon or your hands then put the lid on (or cling film) and place in the fridge for at least an hour (or up to 24 hours).
Step Six - Serve
Serve cold or room temperature. You could garnish this dish with some more toasted sesame seeds and some chopped fresh mint or coriander leaves (cilantro) if you like.
This is a summary only. Please see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this page for full instructions.
Tips for Success
There are a few key points to remember when making this quick pickled cucumber recipe.
- You must salt the cucumbers first! I have tried this recipe with and without salting the cucumbers and I can tell you that it is much better if you salt them first! This is because it draws out some of the juice from the cucumbers so that when they go into the marinade, they will suck up more of the flavourful sauce and will be much more tasty. Don’t worry, all the salt is washed off in the salting stage so it won’t be crazy salty!
- If you can’t find the small Iranian cucumbers, just use the regular long English cucumbers and cut into smaller long finger lengths. You may need to salt them for 15-20 minutes instead as they are more watery than the Persian cucumbers.
- Leave the cucumbers for at least an hour in the fridge before diving into them. They will soak up all the flavour and taste so much better than if you serve them straight away!
- Keep in the fridge for a tasty snack or as part of weekday lunches.
- Serve as a refreshing and spicy nibble with drinks.
- Serve as a starter or palate cleanser as part of a full Chinese meal.
- This is also the perfect side dish to serve alongside other richer Chinese main courses, such as a stir-fry with hoisin sauce, or this braised aubergine and tofu.
- Keto / sugar-free – leave out the maple syrup.
- Oil-free – leave out the sesame oil and add more sesame seeds.
- Non-spicy / child-friendly – if you are serving to people who don't like spicy food, just leave out the chilli flakes.
Making Ahead & Storage
These pickled cucumbers will happily sit in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. The flavour intensifies with time but the cucumbers will become more watery over time. It is best to leave them in the fridge for at least one hour to develop the flavours or, even better, overnight for serving the next day.
Unfortunately these pickled cucumbers do not freeze well. It's best to keep them in the fridge and eat them within 3-4 days of making.
If you cannot find gluten-free Chinese black vinegar, you could substitute with regular rice vinegar mixed with a little balsamic vinegar to give the depth of flavour.
📖 Recipe 📖
Chinese Quick Pickled Cucumbers
- 4 small persian cucumbers, (or English cucumbers cut into smaller lengths)
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar, (make sure to find the gluten-free kind)
- 1 teaspoon gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, ground
- ½ teaspoon maple syrup
- ¼-½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- Preparation: First cut off the ends of the cucumbers and cut them into quarters lengthways (or thin slices). Then place the cucumber quarters into a colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of salt over the cucumbers and mix into the cucumbers with your hands to ensure all are covered. Leave for 10-15 minutes for the salt to draw out some of the cucumber juice.4 small persian cucumbers
- Once the cucumbers have let out a bit of juice into the bowl below, rinse off the cucumbers by washing them in the colander under a running tap. Shake the colander then empty out the cucumbers onto a clean tea towel or piece of kitchen towel. Pat dry.
- Whisk together the marinade ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Then add the cucumber quarters to the bowl and gently mix together with your hands. Once all of the cucumbers have been mixed into the marinade, cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least an hour or up to 24 hours. Serve cold or room temperature, garnished with some chopped fresh mint or coriander leaves (cilantro) if you like.1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar, 1 teaspoon gluten-free soy sauce or tamari, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, ½ teaspoon maple syrup, ¼-½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes, ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, 1 garlic clove
- Always check whether your Chinese black vinegar is gluten-free or not. Some are made from wheat and are, therefore, not gluten-free. Others, such as Chinkiang vinegar, are rice-bsaed and gluten-free.
- If you cannot find GF black vinegar, it can be substituted with rice vinegar mixed with a little balsamic vinegar.
- Keeps for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Serve refreshingly cold straight from the fridge.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a ⭐ star rating ⭐ on the recipe card!
If you like this Chinese pickled cucumber recipe, you may like these other delicious vegan and gluten-free Chinese recipes too: