Cucumber Sunomono is a light, refreshing Japanese salad typically made with thinly sliced cucumbers and a tangy rice vinegar dressing. The word “sunomono” translates to “vinegared things” in Japanese, referring to the vinegar-based dressing that is a key component of the dish. It’s a popular side dish in Japanese cuisine and can be found in many sushi restaurants around the world. Cucumber Sunomono is perfect as an appetizer, side dish, or palate cleanser between courses.
There are many variations of sunomono, and ingredients can differ depending on the region and personal preferences. Some popular additions include wakame (a type of seaweed), crab, shrimp, or octopus. The dressing for sunomono is simple yet flavorful, made with rice vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce. Optionally, you can add sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, or a dash of mirin (sweet rice wine) to customize the taste.
Here’s a detailed recipe for Cucumber Sunomono:
- 2 large cucumbers (preferably Japanese or English cucumbers)
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup dried wakame (optional)
- 1/4 cup cooked and chilled shrimp, crab, or octopus (optional)
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced red onion (optional)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Prepare the cucumbers: Begin by washing the cucumbers thoroughly. If you’re using Japanese or English cucumbers, you can leave the skin on. If you’re using regular cucumbers, you might want to peel them as the skin can be thick and bitter. Then, slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove the seeds. This step is optional, but it helps to prevent the salad from becoming too watery.
- Slice the cucumbers: Use a mandoline slicer or a sharp knife to cut the cucumbers into very thin slices. The thinner the slices, the better they will absorb the dressing. Set the sliced cucumbers aside.
- Rehydrate the wakame (if using): Place the dried wakame in a bowl and cover it with cold water. Let it soak for about 5-10 minutes, or until it becomes soft and rehydrated. Drain the water, and then use your hands to gently squeeze out any excess moisture. Set the rehydrated wakame aside.
- Make the dressing: In a small saucepan, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, mirin (if using), and salt. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the dressing cool to room temperature.
- Combine the salad: In a large mixing bowl, combine the sliced cucumbers, rehydrated wakame, cooked and chilled seafood (if using), and thinly sliced red onion (if using). Pour the cooled dressing over the cucumber mixture and toss gently to ensure that all the ingredients are well coated.
- Chill and serve: Transfer the salad to a serving dish or individual bowls, and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the flavors to meld together and the cucumbers to absorb the dressing. Before serving, sprinkle the salad with toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes (if using). Enjoy your Cucumber Sunomono as a refreshing appetizer or side dish.
Cucumber Sunomono is a versatile dish that can be easily customized to suit individual tastes and preferences. Here are some ideas for variations and additional ingredients you can try to make this delicious salad even more exciting:
Add different vegetables: In addition to cucumbers, you can add other thinly sliced vegetables like radishes, carrots, or daikon. These vegetables will add color, texture, and flavor to your sunomono.
Use other types of vinegar: While rice vinegar is the traditional choice for sunomono, you can experiment with other types of vinegar like apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar. Each type of vinegar will give the dressing a unique flavor profile.
Experiment with herbs: Fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, or shiso can add an extra layer of flavor to your Cucumber Sunomono. Just be sure to chop the herbs finely and sprinkle them on top of the salad just before serving.
Add some heat: If you like your dishes with a bit of a kick, try adding some thinly sliced fresh chili peppers or a dash of hot sauce to the dressing. Alternatively, you can also use Japanese chili oil (rayu) for a subtle heat and smoky flavor.
Incorporate citrus: Citrus can add a bright, tangy flavor to your sunomono. Try adding a splash of yuzu, lime, or lemon juice to the dressing, or garnish the finished salad with some zest.
Include pickled ginger: Japanese pickled ginger, or gari, can add a sweet and tangy element to your Cucumber Sunomono. Thinly slice the pickled ginger and toss it with the salad before serving.
Tofu variation: For a more substantial salad, try adding diced silken or firm tofu to your sunomono. The tofu will absorb the flavors of the dressing, making it a delicious and protein-packed addition.
Make it a meal: You can turn Cucumber Sunomono into a light and refreshing main dish by serving it over a bed of cooked and chilled soba noodles or rice.
By experimenting with different ingredients and flavors, you can create a unique and personalized Cucumber Sunomono that suits your tastes. The possibilities are endless, so have fun and enjoy this versatile, refreshing salad that showcases the simplicity and elegance of Japanese cuisine.