This refreshing, easy, and healthy cucumber salad from Japan has become a big favorite with our family. It doesn’t take long to put together, and makes a great side salad, especially with Asian dishes. The cucumbers are also delicious on sandwiches.
The secret to making namasu is slicing the cucumber super thin – I aim for 1/8-inch slices. A mandoline slicer makes short work of this, but I use nothing more than a sharp knife and it doesn’t take long to get two cucumbers sliced and ready to marinate. Japanese or English cucumbers are best as the peel is edible, and a little peel left on enhances the green color of the pickles.
Some namasu recipes call for the cucumber slices to be salted before mixing with the dressing, but I’ve found I get a crisper salad when I don’t salt ahead of time. The salt draws out moisture from the cucumber and makes them limp, so without salting first there is more liquid at the end but crisper slices.
The amount of sugar called for almost seems too much, but it balances perfectly with the vinegar and ginger so that the dressing is neither too sweet or too sour.
NAMASU (Japanese Pickled Cucumber Salad)
- 2 large Japanese or English cucumbers
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 TBSP grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 to 1 tsp salt
Mix together sugar, vinegar, and ginger and allow the sugar to dissolve completely.
Wash cucumbers and peel, letting a little peel remain. Slice the cucumbers approximately 1/8-inch thick. Place in a large bowl – a low, almost flat bowl works best.
If salting ahead is preferred, sprinkle the salt over the cucumber slices and let sit for around 20 minutes to remove some of their water. Afterwards, rinse the cucumbers well and squeeze out as much moisture as possible before placing back in the bowl.
Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and let sit at room temperature for at least one hour, although two hours is ideal. The dressing won’t initially cover all of the cucumbers slices, but as the salad sits the cucumbers will wilt and eventually all will be covered by the dressing. If the cucumbers were not salted ahead, add only about 1/4 tsp salt before serving.
Namasu can be served at room temperature or chilled. Remove the cucumbers from the dressing to serve.
Several things can be added to namasu to kick things up a bit, if desired. Some of the more popular additions are below and can be used individually or mixed and matched according to taste:
- 1 1/2 TBSP toasted sesame seeds
- 1/4 tsp dark sesame oil (our preference – it’s added to the dressing)
- 1/4 cup grated carrot
- thinly sliced onion
- mung bean sprouts
- thin strips of kamaboko (Japanese fish cake)
- wakame seaweed, reconstituted in water, then drained