Need some cucumber inspiration? Try Japanese Cucumber Salad (Sunomono) four different ways! Dressed in vinegar, sugar, salt, and soy sauce, this sweet and sour cucumber salad makes a versatile side dish to serve with any Japanese meal. It’s light, healthy, and incredibly refreshing!
When cucumbers are at their peak in gardens and markets, we often find a few lingering around at the kitchen counter. If you are in need of some cucumber inspiration today, I hope you try this refreshing Japanese Cucumber Salad called Sunomono (酢の物). This is one of the most popular appetizers at the dinner tables in Japan, and it’s simple and very easy to prepare in a short time.
What is Sunomono?
Sunomono refers to vinegar-based dishes, and they are commonly served as a side dish to the main meal. ”Su (酢)” means vinegar in Japanese. These light refreshing vinegar salads are a great start to any meal as the sourness from the vinegar helps whet your appetite.
When we mention “Sunomono (酢の物)”, it typically refers to Japanese cucumber salad. During the heat of summer and our bodies naturally gravitate towards ‘cooling’ food, this cucumber salad makes a wonderful seasonal side dish especially for grilled fish or meat. Besides the fact that it’s so easy to whip up, the salad is tangy, crunchy and its health benefits are good enough reasons to enjoy on a weekly basis.
Variations for Japanese Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)
We have a large variety of appetizers using vinegar and cucumber. Here are some examples:
- Tako Su (Octopus Salad)
- Japanese Cucumber Salad with Crab
- Spiralized Cucumber Salad with Sesame Dressing
Today I’m making 4 variations with this recipe.
- Classic (cucumber and wakame seaweed)
- Cucumber salad with crab (I am allergic to crab, so I use imitation crab meat)
- Cucumber salad with boiled octopus (you can get “octopus sashimi” in the Japanese grocery store)
- Cucumber salad with boiled salted baby anchovies
3 Tips to Make Delicious Japanese Cucumber Salad
1. Pick the right kind of cucumber
There are a lot of different kinds of cucumbers out there, but I like using Japanese cucumbers for their crunchiness and seedless texture. If you couldn’t find Japanese cucumber, you can use English or Persian cucumbers, but I don’t recommend regular (American) cucumbers as they have big seeds, higher moisture content, and thick skin.
2. Salt the cucumber
For this salad recipe, salting the cucumber is an important step. It helps to remove excess liquid from the cucumber, which in turn yields a great crunch for the salad.
3. Add layers to cucumber salad
I often add in wakame seaweed to cucumber salad for another layer of texture and for its beneficial nutrients. To top it off, you can garnish with toasted sesame seeds to give the salad extra fragrance and crunch. Of course, you’re always welcome to toss in other ingredients to the classic sunomono recipe, for additional color, nutrients, and textures.
Dressed in nothing more but a simple combination of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and soy sauce, the flavor of Sunomono is the perfect balance of sweet and sour.
Hope you enjoy making all four variations! If you want to check out other Japanese side dish recipes, read 15 Easy Japanese Side Dish Recipes.
Japanese Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)
For the Dressing
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Make the Dressing
- In a bowl, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and soy sauce. Whisk well together. If the vinegar tastes too strong, you can dilute it with a very small amount of dashi (Japanese soup stock) or water.
To Make the Sunomono
- Soak the dried wakame seaweed in water and let it rehydrate for 10 minutes.
- Peel the skin of the cucumbers, leaving some skin on to create stripes. Then, slice them thinly into rounds.
- Sprinkle the salt on the slices and gently massage it in. Set aside for 5 minutes. The salt helps draw out the moisture from the cucumbers (so it does not dilute the salad dressing after mixing).
- Squeeze out the liquid from the rehydrated wakame seaweed and cucumbers. Add them to the bowl with the dressing and toss it all together.
- The salad is ready to serve.
Variation 2—Imitation Crab
- Cut four sticks of imitation crab into thirds and combine with the cucumber and wakame seaweed mixture from Step 4.
Variation 3—Boiled Octopus
- Slice the octopus thinly and combine with the cucumber and wakame seaweed mixture from Step 4.
Variation 4—Boiled Salted Baby Anchovies (Shirasu):
- Combine the shirasu with the cucumber and wakame seaweed mixture from Step 4.
- Serve the salad in individual bowls or a large serving bowl and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Enjoy!
- Keep in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days (2 days for the seafood variations and 3 days for the classic version). However, it's possible that the cucumber releases more moisture and the sauce may get diluted. Enjoy it soon!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 23, 2012. The post has been updated in July, 2018 with a video and newly updated images.