Posted by: A Part of the Solution | August 2, 2010

Thai Cucumber Salad

My older brother didn’t graduate from high school with the rest of the kids in his class. He got involved with AFS (American Field Service) and went to Thailand in the middle of his senior year. He had a great host family. He learned a lot about Thai culture and customs. He even spent a month in a Buddhist monastery. That month may have contributed to his pacifist worldview. It certainly created an ethical ground for his eco-vegetarianism–which he maintains to this day. But this post is about cucumbers.

And it was through my brother I learned to appreciate and prepare food in the style of Thailand. When he returned from his year abroad, the Thai food craze was only just taking off in the major metropolitan areas of the US. The fresh, spicy, tropical flavors of Thailand were not ubiquitous back in the day. In fact, they were a novelty. We loved it when Peter would prepare Pad Thai for a family dinner. And he often accompanied that classic wok dish with a side of cucumber salad.

I think the world of this cucumber salad. It’s quick. It’s composed of only a few ingredients, and they’re mostly pantry staples (in my house, shallots are a pantry staple). And everybody loves it for its crisp, refreshing texture and flavor. In the heat of summer especially, this is a welcome sight on the table at breakfast, lunch or dinner. And it’s fun to nosh on right from the fridge when a quick mouthful constitutes a pick-me-up.

You can use English or pickling cucumbers here. The main thing (as ever) is to control the texture of the finished product by scraping out all the seeds. And the potential for bitterness in the salad is reduced to near nil by two steps: 1) peeling the cucumbers and 2) salting the cucumbers. Don’t skip these essential steps and you’ll be  serving a side salad of which you have every right to be proud.

Thai Cucumber Salad

3 large cucumbers, or 6 medium

2 fat shallots

1 tsp salt

1 TBSP sugar (palm sugar is authentic, if you want to go that route)

1/4 tsp hot sauce such as Sri Ra-Cha, “Shark Sauce” (the picture of the shark is the only graphic on the bottle I can read) or Tabasco

1/4 cup of white vinegar (rice wine vinegar is authentic)

Peel the cucumbers. Split them lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut them no more than 1/2 centimeter in thickness. Using the teaspoon of salt, salt them and leave them in a colander to drain for an hour. Peel and slice as thinly as possible the shallots. Now mix  the sugar, hot sauce and vinegar together. Pour the wet mixture over the shallots and drained cucumbers.

Refrigerate the salad for at least and hour. It will keep in the fridge for a week. It may be garnished with a chiffonade of Thai Opal Basil when being served–or cilantro if one prefers. But it’s good plain. And it’s great as an accompaniment to richer, spicier foods.



  1. I can’t wait to make this! I’ve already bought all the ingredients! Yahoo!

  2. So WEIRD! I just set up an AFS hosting blog, as we are hosting a Thai student this fall, and was surfing the AFS tag and this post was one of the first ones that came up.

    What caught my eye is that I was also an AFS student to Thailand, in the same year as Peter, who remains to this day one of my favorite people on the planet.

    On topic, I know this salad, and it is one that even my pickiest eater loves.

    Hi Peter’s sister!

  3. […] Salad with fingerling potatoes, and only half smash them before adding the pesto dressing. Make Thai Cucumber Salad, too–this can be done well ahead or even the day […]

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