Gochujang cucumber salad is a refreshing Korean side dish that combines the cool crunchiness of cucumbers with the spicy, sweet umami flavor of gochujang.
This easy salad can be made in under 30 minutes with just a few pantry ingredients.
Understanding Gochujang and Banchan
To appreciate gochujang cucumber salad, it helps to understand what gochujang is and the role of banchan in Korean cuisine.
Gochujang is a fermented red chili paste that is a staple ingredient in Korean cooking. It is made from chili peppers, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. Gochujang has a rich, savory umami flavor with sweet and spicy notes. It adds serious heat as well as body and texture to dishes. Gochujang is used to make many Korean staples like bibimbap, bulgogi, and kimchi.
Banchan refers to small side dishes in Korean cuisine that are served along with rice and other main dishes. Banchan is an essential part of every Korean meal. There are often 3-12 banchan served to provide an array of flavors and textures. Banchan are meant to be enjoyed as snacks alongside the main meal. Most banchan are vegetable-focused, like kimchi, bean sprout salad, spinach salad, and japchae noodles.
Gochujang cucumber salad is a popular refreshing banchan enjoyed in the summer months. It combines the coolness of cucumbers with the characteristic Korean gochujang flavors.
Picking Cucumbers for Gochujang Salad
Gochujang cucumber salad starts with thinly sliced crunchy cucumbers. The best cucumbers for this recipe have:
- Thin, edible skin - avoids peeling and adds bite
- Small seeds - easier to eat and minimize watery texture
- Mild sweet flavor - complements the other ingredients
The best varieties include:
- Persian cucumbers - small, tender, and delicately flavored
- Japanese cucumbers - thin-skinned, crispy, and refreshing
- Kirby/pickling cucumbers - small, firm pickling cukes with thin skin
- English cucumbers - longer, slender cucumbers with few seeds
Korean or Chinese cucumbers also work well when available. Standard pole cucumbers can be used too but may need peeling and seed removal.
Prepping Cucumbers for Maximum Crunch
It's important to draw out excess moisture from the cucumbers to ensure a crisp, crunchy texture. Here are some tips:
- Salt the cucumber slices and let them drain in a colander for 30 minutes up to 1 hour. The salt draws out the liquid.
- Add ice to press down on the cucumbers and extract more water.
- Before dressing, pat dry with towels to remove excess moisture.
This process prevents the dressing from getting diluted and gives you super crunchy, thirsty cucumbers ready to soak up flavor.
Building Delicious Gochujang Cucumber Salad Dressing
The dressing is what really makes this salad sing. A great gochujang cucumber salad dressing has:
- Gochujang - for savory umami, sweetness, serious heat, and thick texture
- Gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) - for milder heat and subtle fruitiness
- Sesame oil - nutty flavor and aroma
- Rice vinegar - tangy brightness
- Soy sauce - salty and savory
- Garlic - pungent bite
- Sugar or honey - a touch of sweetness
- Toasted sesame seeds - textural contrast
Whisk together the dressing ingredients until well combined. Taste and adjust to your preferences. You want a balance of savory, sweet, spicy, and tangy.
Assembling the Gochujang Cucumber Salad
Constructing the salad is a cinch:
- Toss the drained cucumber slices with the gochujang dressing.
- Let marinate for 30 minutes up to 1 hour.
- Garnish with more toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions.
The rested cucumbers will have had time to absorb maximum flavor. Sprinkle the scallions and seeds over just before serving.
Chill the salad thoroughly before serving for optimal summery crunch and refreshment. Enjoy!
Serving Ideas for Gochujang Cucumber Salad
Gochujang cucumber salad truly shines as banchan, paired with:
- Steamed white rice
- Grilled or braised meats like bulgogi, galbi, or pork belly
- Hearty Korean stews and hot pots
- Korean barbeque
Beyond Korean cuisine, it also livens up:
- Rice bowls
- Sandwiches and burgers
- Grilled chicken, fish, or tofu
- Picnics and barbecues
For a hearty Korean-inspired meal, serve gochujang cucumber salad alongside braised tofu, rice, kimchi, and a simple soup or stew.
Storing Leftover Gochujang Cucumber Salad
Properly stored, gochujang cucumber salad keeps for 3-5 days refrigerated. The cucumbers may release more liquid over time, creating a sort of cucumber kimchi juice. This enhances the flavors!
Repurpose the collected juice to create a fast flavor boost for grains and veggies.
With its short ingredient list and easy technique, gochujang cucumber salad is a fun Korean banchan to add to your repertoire. The addictive flavors and satisfying crunch will have you coming back for more bites! Give this summery gochujang cucumber salad a try soon.
Can I add other vegetables to the gochujang cucumber salad?
Yes, you can add thinly sliced carrots, radishes, bell peppers, or leafy greens to the salad for extra crunch, flavor, and nutrition. Just adjust the dressing quantities as needed.
What's the best way to slice cucumbers for this recipe?
You can slice cucumbers into thin rounds or half moons about 1/4 inch thick. Or for more texture, lightly smash cucumbers before slicing them into chunks. This creates nooks and crannies for the dressing to cling to.
Is gochujang spicy?
Gochujang offers a complex spicy flavor. The level of heat varies by brand. Start with a little gochujang and add more to taste. Balance it with sweetener, vinegar, and sesame oil. For milder heat, use less gochugaru.
Can I prepare the dressing ahead?
Yes. Prepare the gochujang dressing up to 5 days ahead and refrigerate until ready to use. Whisk again before tossing with the cucumbers.
With its short prep time and simple ingredients, gochujang cucumber salad makes an easy Korean staple to add to your repertoire.
The burst of flavors and crunchy cool texture will have you going back for more all summer long.
Gochujang Cucumber Salad Recipe
- For the cucumbers:
- 1 lb Persian, Japanese, or English cucumbers, thinly sliced
- For the dressing:
- 2 Tbsp gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- 1 Tbsp gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) or to taste
- 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp honey or sugar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
- 2 scallions, sliced (for garnish)
- Slice cucumbers into thin rounds, about 1/4 inch thick.
- Place cucumber slices in a colander and sprinkle with 1 tsp salt. Let drain for 30 mins to 1 hour. This draws out excess moisture.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until combined.
- Rinse cucumbers briefly to remove salt. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- Add drained cucumbers to a bowl. Pour over dressing and toss to coat evenly.
- Allow to marinate for 30 mins in the fridge for flavors to meld.
- When ready to serve, garnish with sliced scallions and sesame seeds.
- Enjoy chilled or at room temperature. Store leftovers in the fridge for 3-5 days.
- Thinner skinned cucumbers like Persian or Japanese work best. Regular cucumbers can also be used with peel removed.
- Adjust gochujang amount based on desired spice level. Start with less and add more to taste.
- For a vegan salad, use vegan gochujang.