I love it when a simple recipe packs such a flavour punch. This Korean cucumber salad is spicy, sweet, and refreshing. And it requires hardly any prep!
Enjoy it with classic Korean dishes or alongside any heavy meal. Add it to a rice bowl (as you would cucumber kimchi or cucumber pickles), or mix it with cooked and cooled noodles for an easy lunch noodle salad.
While the salad only relies on a few simple components, some Korean ingredients may be difficult to track down if you don’t have an Asian grocery store nearby. So, I suggest alternatives to get you cooking in no time.
What is Korean cucumber salad?
This spicy cucumber salad is a classic Korean side dish (banchan). It is crunchy, spicy, refreshing and packed with rich, nutty, toasted flavours.
In Korean, oi means cucumber, and muchim means mixed. And, true to the name, it’s a classic Korean side salad of sliced cucumbers mixed with a perfectly balanced, sweet and spicy sauce.
Banchan refers to many Korean side dishes served alongside most Korean meals. They may seem like a side deal at first glance, but they pack a mean flavour punch and are an essential part of Korean cuisine. And Korean cucumber banchan is my favourite!
While this is an authentic Korean spicy cucumber salad, any heavy meal will benefit from the bright, fresh, crunchy cucumbers. Whether it’s time for burgers, Korean barbecue (or American) or a simple rice bowl, this refreshing cuke salad has you covered!
What does Oi Muchim taste like?
This easy Korean cucumber salad is spicy, a bit sweet, slightly savoury, nutty and utterly refreshing. Gochugaru adds the spicy kick with a mild smoky taste. And paired with that slight crunch, it makes the perfect side dish for any Korean meal.
The best cucumbers for Korean cucumber salad
Traditional recipes call for Korean cucumbers. But they are not widely available in the Western world. Luckily, most cucumbers will work here. Just make sure they have thin skin and sweet and crunchy insides.
Use Japanese cucumbers, Persian cucumbers, English cucumbers, or Kirby cucumbers (pickling cucumbers) if you don’t have Korean cucumbers.
English cucumbers are the most accessible. So, I adjusted the recipe to use one whole English cucumber.
Spicy cucumber salad ingredients & substitutes
- Cucumbers: The spicy sauce recipe creates the perfect quantity for one whole English cucumber. But you can also use Korean, Japanese, or Persian cucumbers. Use roughly one pound (450 grams) of sliced cucumbers.
- Gochugaru: The coarse Korean red pepper flakes work best in this recipe. But you can also use Korean red chilli powder or other seedless red pepper flakes (like pul biber). See the best gochugaru substitutes if you struggle to track it down.
- Scallion: Finely chop your scallion (also called green onions). Or use the green part of a spring onion. In a pinch, you can also try thinly sliced shallot.
- Garlic: Mince or grate a fresh garlic clove. A medium-sized garlic clove weighs roughly five grams.
- Vinegar: I use unseasoned rice vinegar (or rice wine vinegar). If you have seasoned rice vinegar, you can add double the quantity (two teaspoons) and omit the sugar. You can also use any white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar if that is what you have.
- Soy sauce: Light soy sauce is best in this cucumber salad recipe – it is lighter in colour with a less intense soy flavour. But you can also use all-purpose soy sauce. Just avoid dark soy sauce.
- Sugar: The sugar provides that touch of sweetness we all love in the sweet, savoury and spicy Korean flavour profile. But, you can omit this if you want to keep things sugar-free or use a natural sweetener that is light in colour, like agave nectar.
- Toasted sesame oil: Make sure your sesame oil is toasted. It adds a deliciously complex, nutty flavour.
- Toasted sesame seeds: Briefly toast hulled sesame seeds in a hot, dry pan. Or toast a large batch of sesame seeds in the oven and store it in an airtight container to use as needed. But if you’re in a rush, don’t worry about toasting the sesame seeds. It does amplify their flavour, but it’s not required.
How to make Korean cucumber salad
The key is to drain as much water from the cucumbers before dressing the salad with a flavour-packed spicy Korean dressing with gochugaru (chilli flakes), scallions, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. The method creates a flavour-packed salad with lots of crunch!
First, thinly slice your cucumber into disks (roughly ½ cm or ⅕ inch). A mandolin does this in no time, but you can also use a sharp knife.
Place the sliced cucumbers in a colander and sprinkle with half a tablespoon of salt. Use your hands to gently distribute the salt through the cucumbers. Set it aside to drain off excess liquid for at least 15 minutes (or up to an hour).
While the cucumbers drain, make your sauce. Choose a large mixing bowl that will fit your sliced cucumber. Add half the gochugaru along with the rest of the sauce ingredients (half a tablespoon of gochugaru, one thinly sliced scallion, a minced garlic clove, a teaspoon of rice vinegar, one tablespoon of light soy sauce, a teaspoon of sugar, and half a tablespoon each toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds).
Taste the dressing, then add the rest of your chilli flakes if it is not too hot. Cucumbers have a mild, refreshing, and cooling taste, so the dressing should be just above your desired spice level to get the perfect final effect.
Tip the drained cucumber slices into the large bowl with the dressing and gently mix with your hands. Taste and season with salt if necessary.
And just like that, your cucumber salad is ready to enjoy!
How long does Oi Muchim last?
Spicy Korean cucumber salad lasts three to four days in the fridge. Store it in a clean, airtight container.
Extra moisture is unavoidable when storing the salad for more than a day. But you can avoid a soggy salad by draining your cucumbers well when you make the salad.
Can you freeze Oi Muchim?
No, unfortunately, you cannot freeze cucumber salad. The cucumber salad will get soggy once defrosted. Place leftover oi muchim in the fridge in an airtight container, or eat it all straight away!
- 1 pound cucumber – about 1 English cucumber or 6 Persian cucumbers
- ½ tablespoon salt
Spicy sauce ingredients
- 1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean red chilli pepper flakes)
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onion
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, or all-purpose soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- ½ tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced – about one medium-sized garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar, or agave nectar
- Thinly slice the cucumber – roughly ⅕ inch (½ cm). Toss gently with half a tablespoon of salt and set aside in a colander for at least 15 minutes (up to an hour) to drain excess moisture.
- While the cucumber drains, mix the spicy sauce ingredients in a large mixing bowl (large enough to fit the cucumbers).
- Gently mix the seasoned cucumber with the dressing. Taste and season with salt if necessary.
- Gochugaru varies in intensity, so taste the Korean chilli flakes and adjust your sauce to match your preferred heat level. If they are intensely hot, start with half a tablespoon of gochugaru and taste the dressing. Taste, and if the sauce is not too hot, add the rest. Cucumbers have a mild, refreshing, and cooling taste, so tasting the sauce alone should register just above your desired spice level to get the perfect final effect. Read more about gochugaru.
- Refrigerate the salad in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days and bring it to room temperature before serving.