This crunchy, spicy, refreshing Korean cucumber salad is the perfect make-ahead salad. Not only is it packed with umami, it’s also gluten free, paleo, keto, and Whole30!
Whenever I go out for Korean barbecue or visit my Korean pals’ homes for dinner, the true stars of the meal are the banchan—the small side dishes that accompany the meaty main.
Banchan can include salad (e.g., siegumchi namul Korean spinach side dish), pickles, savory pancakes, kimchi, or other dishes that add variety, texture, flavor, and balance to the meal. As a gastrogeek who craves TONS of options at every meal, these tiny plates filled with tangy, fermented, and spicy bites are right up my alley!
Sadly, it’s difficult to find reliably gluten-free Korean restaurant food, so I started creating paleo and Whole30 versions of my favorite dishes at home. After re-creating some of my favorite entrées like Galbi (Korean BBQ short ribs) and Slow Cooker Korean Short Ribs, I realized I missed munching on banchan. So let’s make a paleo and Whole30 Korean Cucumber Salad!
What is Korean cucumber salad?
Korean cucumber salad is a simple and refreshing banchan made with thinly sliced cucumbers and a spicy or tangy dressing. It’s also known as oi muchim (오이무침) in Korean, which means “cucumber mixed with seasonings”.
There are lots of variations of this dish, but some common ingredients are soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, green onions, sesame oil, sesame seeds and gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes). I know the vibrant red of the gochugaru makes the salad look super spicy, but believe me: it’s really not that fiery!
To keep things completely paleo and Whole30-friendly, I’ve swapped out the soy sauce and removed the sugar in this spicy Korean cucumber salad recipe, but the rest of the ingredients remain unchanged from the classic preparation of oi muchim.
- Seedless cucumbers: The best cucumbers for this salad are varieties that are crunchy, slightly sweet, and feature thin skins and few seeds. I prefer Persian cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers, or Korean cucumbers, but you can also use English cucumber or Kirby cucumbers in a pinch.
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Green onions
- Minced garlic
- Coconut aminos: This is the perfect substitute for soy sauce and it adds a natural subtle sweetness as well.
- Unseasoned Rice vinegar: Adds a nice tanginess to the salad. You can use apple cider vinegar if you don’t have rice vinegar on hand.
- Gochugaru (Korean chili flakes): You can buy gochugaru at your local Korean market, at Whole Foods, or online. Although the vibrant red color makes these flakes seem super spicy, gochugaru is actually fairly mild. In addition to some mild heat, gochugaru adds a slight smokiness and sweetness. It’s hard to replace so I don’t recommend substituting cayenne pepper or another chili powder for it—though in a pinch, you can try Aleppo pepper in its place.
- Toasted sesame oil
- Toasted sesame seeds
How to make Korean cucumber salad
Cut the cucumbers crosswise into thin ¼-inch slices.
Salt the cucumbers!
No one likes a soggy spicy cucumber salad, so I always take the time to salt the sliced cucumbers before I add the other seasonings. Salt the cucumber slices and drain them in a colander for at least 20 minutes and up to 4 hours to help draw out the liquid. The resulting texture offers a refreshing crunch. Not using Diamond Crystal kosher salt? You’ll need to reduce the amount of salt by half (if you’re using table salt or fine sea salt) or a quarter (if you’re using Morton’s kosher salt).
Toss the sliced cucumbers with Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
Then, transfer the salted cucumber slices to a fine-mesh strainer or a colander fitted inside a medium bowl.
Place the strainer and bowl with the salted cucumber in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes and up to 4 hours while you prepare the other ingredients.
Blot the excess moisture from the drained cucumbers with a clean paper towel and toss them in a large mixing bowl with the green onions, garlic, coconut aminos…
…rice vinegar, gochugaru, sesame oil, and sesame seeds.
Mix well—and if needed, adjust the seasoning to taste.
Allow the flavors to meld for about 5 to 10 minutes before digging into this fabulous Korean cucumber side dish!
Frequently asked questions
You can store the leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge for up to four days. However, the cucumbers will continue to release some liquid so make sure to drain them before serving.
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not!(Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022).
Korean Cucumber Salad (Whole30, Paleo, Gluten Free, Keto)
- 1 pound Persian cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers, English cucumbers, or Kirby cucumbers
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 2 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons coconut aminos
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
- Cut the cucumbers crosswise into thin ¼-inch slices. Toss the sliced cucumbers with Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
- Transfer the salted cucumber slices to a fine-mesh strainer or a colander fitted inside a medium bowl. Place the strainer and bowl with the salted cucumber in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes and up to 4 hours while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Blot the excess moisture from the drained cucumbers with a clean paper towel and toss them in a large mixing bowl with the scallions, garlic, coconut aminos, rice vinegar, gochugaru, sesame oil, and sesame seeds.
- Mix well—and if needed, adjust the seasoning to taste. Allow the flavors to meld for about 5 to 10 minutes before digging in!
- You can store the leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge for up to four days. However, the cucumbers will continue to release some liquid so make sure to drain them before serving.
- This Korean cucumber salad pairs well with any meat dish! Some of my faves include: Galbi (BBQ Korean Short Ribs), Slow Cooker Korean Short Ribs, Kalua Pig, My Sister’s Phenomenal Green Chicken, Cracklin’ Chicken, and Bangin’ Baby Back Ribs.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.