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Sunomono Japanese Cucumber Salad

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Sunomono, or, Japanese Cucumber Salad, is a popular and refreshing Japanese dish. Serve this sweet, vinegary salad with rich meats, poke bowls, Korean barbecue, or on its own. 

sunomono japanese cucumber salad sliced cucumbers with sesame seeds in dark bowl, sliced cucumbers, and on a white plate and rattan mat

Today I’m going to share a new Japanese recipe: Sunomono! This Japanese cucumber salad is one of my absolute favorites and I always have the ingredients on hand for it!

If you’ve been around here long enough, then you probably know I’m biologically 100% Japanese! My parents are both Japanese and came to the United States for school. They are legal U.S. citizens and I was born and raised in Utah. 

My husband went on a church service mission to Japan. He lived there, fully immersed in the culture and language, for two years. We love Japanese food and culture in our home!

Japan is a food-centric culture. Everything revolves around food! Fun fact, there are more Michelin Star restaurants in Japan than anywhere else in the world. The food is exquisite.

I love to create, eat, and share recipes inspired by Asian flavors, such as my Shabu Shabu, Hot & Sour Soup, Egg Drop Soup, and Poke Bowls

Top view of sunomono asian cucumber salad sliced cucumbers in liquid with sesame seeds in glass jar

What is Sunomono? 

Sunomono is Japanese Cucumber Salad. You’ll often find it at Japanese sushi bars. It’s a sweet, vinegared marinated cucumber dish that’s super simple, crisp, and refreshing. I love serving with poke bowls, Korean barbecue, rich meats, and just on its own as a salad! 

EVERYONE loves when I make this recipe! It’s a unique crowd-pleaser.

Sunomono salad is extremely refreshing. The paper thin cucumbers are marinated in a sweet and inviting vinegar mixture (you’ll think of sushi rice, since it uses the same vinegar). They marinate super quick, and turn incredibly crunchy!

Ingredients for Sunomono 

My recipe for Japanese Cucumber Salad has only five ingredients! 

bottles of crushed red pepper, roasted sesame seed, rice seasoning, and rice vinegar lined up behind cucumbers
  • English cucumbers
  • Japanese rice wine vinegar
  • Japanese sweet rice wine (Mirin)
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Crushed red pepper flakes

Note: Rice wine vinegar CAN’T be substituted for apple cider vinegar, white distilled vinegar, red wine vinegar, or any other kind of vinegar.

What is an English cucumber?

English cucumbers are different from regular slicing cucumbers! Regular cucumbers are usually very dark, 6-9 inches, and have a thick, waxy skin. They contain large seeds that can make the cucumber taste bitter.

English cucumbers are usually very long, thin, and individually wrapped. They have fewer seeds and a sweeter flavor. English cucumbers should definitely be used in this recipe vs. a slicing cucumber.

sunomono with seasonings and liquid in glass jar on an oblong plate next to sliced cucumbers next to chapsticks

What is Mirin? 

Mirin is Japanese sweet rice wine. It’s a staple in Asian and Japanese cooking. Mirin is part of the trinity of ingredients, as I call it: Mirin, Sake, and Soy Sauce. Most Japanese recipes contain one or all of these ingredients in varying ratios to create all the delicious flavors of Japanese cooking! 

  • Soy Sauce: This popular, flavorful condiment is made from fermented soybeans and wheat. It’s a salty staple in many Asian countries and worldwide.
  • Sake: (pronounced “sah-KAY”) This fermented rice drink is the national beverage of Japan. It’s also known as rice wine. It’s used in many recipes and commonly served as a drink (hot or cold) during happy hour at Japanese sushi restaurants.
  • Mirin: Mirin is similar to sake, but has more sugar and a lower alcoholic content. Mirin brings a subtle sweetness, tang, and richness. It pairs well with soy sauce and is used in most teriyaki dishes. I bet the flavor is familiar to you, even if you’ve never cooked with it!

I use Mirin in my Japanese Cucumber Salad recipe. It can be found in almost any conventional grocery store in the Asian food section. I’ve seen it at Harmons, Walmart, Smiths, Kroger, etc. It can be substituted with sugar water (1:1 ratio). However, I highly recommend buying a small, inexpensive bottle for this recipe!

Top view of asian cucumber salad with sesame seeds in dark bowl next to chopsticks, sliced cucumbers, and on a white plate and rattan mat

How to Make Japanese Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)

This recipe couldn’t be any easier! It comes together quickly as a simple, unique, flavorful side dish. 

  • Add all ingredients to a jar or container with a lid, then shake. 
  • Push down all the cucumbers so they’re submerged in the vinegar. 
  • Marinate in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes and up to 5 hours. 
  • Serve the cucumber salad in a bowl, or out of the jar with tongs. 

Note: Do not drink the vinegar mixture. 

I usually keep all the ingredients for this recipe on hand. There’s nothing worse than creating a beautiful main dish, just to wonder what to serve on the side. Sunomono is always a quick, easy solution! 

Japanese Cucumber Salad (Sunomono) Tips

  • Since this recipe only uses a few ingredients, it’s important to use the actual ingredients and not substitutes.
  • Slice the cucumbers as thinly as possible! It’s almost a shaved cucumber. Using a very thin mandolin might help. 
  • No need to peel your cucumber. Just ensure it’s washed.
  • Don’t allow your pickles to marinate too long. It’s ok to do so, but I find the cucumbers taste watery the next day. I prepare this dish about 30 minutes to a couple of hours before serving. 
  • If you eat all the cucumbers on the same day they were marinated, I store the vinegar mixture in the fridge and reuse it for at least one more batch of cucumbers!
  • You can easily adjust the ingredients in this recipe to taste. If it’s too vinegary for you, add extra mirin or sugar. If you like them spicier, add more crushed red pepper. Don’t like any spice? Simply omit. 
Side view of sunomono sliced cucumbers with seasonings and liquid in glass jar on an oblong plate next to sliced cucumbers next to chapsticks

What to serve with Japanese Cucumber Salad

Sunomono is a versatile dish!

  • Serve it as an appetizer. This is often how it’s served at sushi bars. 
  • These cool, crunchy, tangy, and sweet cucumbers are the perfect summer dish! I love to serve them with rich grilled meat or fish. 
  • Try it with my popular poke bowls or Korean barbecue.
  • This recipe makes a delish salad on its own!

Itadakimasu!

Asian Recipes

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Graphic of Asian cucumber salad with a picture of a bowl of sliced cucumbers.
Top view of sliced cucumbers with sesame seeds in dark bowl next to chopsticks, sliced cucumbers, and on a white plate and rattan mat

Sunomono Japanese Cucumber Salad

Yield: 2 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Japanese Cucumber Salad, or Sunomono, is a popular Japanese dish. Serve this sweet, vinegary salad with rich meats, poke bowls, Korean barbecue, or on its own. 

Ingredients

  • 1 large english cucumber (unpeeled), washed and sliced or shaved into extremely thin slices
  • 2/3 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Mirin
  • 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients to a jar or container with a lid, then shake. 
  2. Push down all the cucumbers so they're submerged in the vinegar. 
  3. Marinate in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes and up to 5 hours. 
  4. Serve the cucumber salad in a bowl, or out of the jar with tongs. 
  5. Do not drink the vinegar mixture. 

Notes

  • If you eat all the cucumbers on the same day they were marinated, I store the vinegar mixture in the fridge and reuse it for at least one more batch of cucumbers!
  • Don't allow your pickles to marinate too long. It’s ok to do so, but I find the cucumbers taste watery the next day. I prepare this dish about 30 minutes to a couple of hours before serving. 
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    Nutrition Information:
    Yield: 5 Serving Size: 1
    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 55Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 0gSugar: 8gProtein: 0g

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