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How to make the perfect cucumber salad: 5 recipes to cool down any cookout

The cucumber — whether sliced, chopped, smashed or ribboned — is a blank canvas for flavor.
How to make a variety of cucumber salads for summer
Your ultimate cucumber salad guide has arrived.Ali Rosen

There are few things more refreshing and crowd-pleasing in the summer than a cucumber salad. It has crunch, can hold a ton of flavor and is simple to make. But with the relatively blank canvas of a cucumber to start with, how do you decide which direction to take it?

The first step is actually in the cucumber itself; not all varieties are created equal. For a salad where cucumber is the star, you want to make sure you are using cucumbers deserving of that leading role, rather than ones that are watery or filled with seeds. The best widely available variety are the small Persian cucumbers, which have a thin skin and very few seeds. If you can’t find Persian, then Kirby, Japanese or English cucumbers will also do the trick.

Once you have your cucumber, you have to decide how best to cut it for your particular salad. Cucumbers can have dramatically different textures when they are sliced, chopped, smashed or ribboned. Small slices give you texture in every bite, while smashing or ribboning allows them to absorb whatever other sauces, spices and ingredients you include.

But most important of all is the combination of flavors. With cucumber as the main ingredient, you get an abundance of crunch to start with. Cucumbers are 95% water, so they are ready to soak up any flavors you want to give them. But to balance out that crunch, you’ll want to add in some creaminess and acid. You can find creaminess in additions like olive oil, sour cream, yogurt, tahini or avocado. You can bring in acid through lemon, lime or vinegars. And then added elements, like spice, herbs, cheese and grains, can round it out.

Here are a few great places to start:

Cucumber & Tomato Salad with Lime-Tahini Dressing

How to make a variety of cucumber salads for summer
Cucumber & Tomato Salad with Lime-Tahini DressingAli Rosen

Cucumber and tomato are as classic as it comes but this twist on an Israeli salad gets all its extra flair from its dressing: creamy tahini matched with bright lime. The typical way to serve is to cut the cucumber and tomato small enough that you get lots of both ingredients in every bite. Mix and match the herbs, add in grains or nuts, but the dressing will work to bring any cucumber salad together.

  • 1 pound cucumbers, diced
  • 1 pound tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • dash of salt

Cucumber-Avocado Salad with Feta

How to make a variety of cucumber salads for summer
Cucumber-Avocado Salad with FetaAli Rosen

Cucumbers and avocado combine for the perfect crunchy-and-creamy duo. Add some briny feta, along with classic lemon and basil, and you’ll have a salad ready for any summer gathering. I like the simplicity of the ingredients here, but it also works with additional Mediterranean additions like olives, tomatoes, onions or other herbs.

  • 1 pound cucumbers, chopped
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 2 tablespoons basil
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • dash of olive oil
  • dash of salt

Cucumber-Dill-Quinoa Salad

How to make a variety of cucumber salads for summer
Cucumber-Dill-Quinoa SaladAli Rosen

Creamy dill sauce gets a modern twist with the addition of quinoa. This dish is somewhere between a grain bowl and a salad but, because of the sour cream, it doesn’t feel like a diet meal. A touch of vinegar gives it the acidity to round it all out.

  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dill
  • 1 pound cucumbers, diced
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • dash of salt

Smashed Asian Cucumber Salad

How to make a variety of cucumber salads for summer
Smashed Asian Cucumber SaladAli Rosen

Few things are more satisfying than smashing a cucumber — and it is even better when it is done in the service of flavor! All those cracks and crevices can soak up the flavor in this simple version of a favorite dish. The sauces get to shine when the only hefty ingredient is cucumber. Swap in fish sauce or other seasonings, including making this dish extra spicy with chile oil or red pepper flakes.

  • 1 pound cucumbers, smashed
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Spicy Cucumber & Fennel Chicken Salad

How to make a variety of cucumber salads for summer
Spicy Cucumber & Fennel Chicken SaladAli Rosen

Grated fennel and peeled cucumber bring a lightness to this spicy chicken salad. The addition of the Sriracha gives a ton of flavor, but feel free to substitute with any hot sauce or spicy condiment you prefer.

  • 1 fennel bulb, grated
  • 1 pound grilled chicken breast, diced
  • 1 pound cucumber, peeled into ribbons
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • dash of salt