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Simple Japanese Pickled Cucumbers

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Japanese pickled cucumbers are fast and easy to make. You just need salt, sugar, rice vinegar, and cucumber! A refreshing, bright side dish.

A bowl of Pickled Japanese Cucumbers
Pickled Japanese Cucumbers

Japanese Pickled Cucumbers

Hooray for Japanese Pickled Cucumbers! These are the easiest pickles you'll ever make (and perhaps one of the most delicious).

You just slice, salt, and then marinate the cucumbers in a mixture of sugar and rice vinegar. That's it!

It's wonderful and refreshing. In Hawaii, this dish is also called cucumber namasu. You'll find these pickled cucumbers at most Japanese restaurants around Hawaii and bento shops (often sold as one of the many components in the a bento) or a standalone side dish (alongside other vegetables like Hijiki Salad).

This is meant to be served as a side dish, but I often end up snacking on the cucumbers plain. I'm not crazy about raw cucumbers, but I love these pickled cucumbers.

They're so bright with an elegant tang from the rice vinegar. We use rice vinegar instead of regular vinegar because rice vinegar is less harsh. It's mellow with a light touch of sweetness.

Seasoning ingredients for Pickled Japanese Cucumbers: salt, sugar, and rice vinegar
Seasoning ingredients: salt, sugar, and rice vinegar

Ingredients

All you need are four ingredients for this recipe. One cucumber and three pantry items!

  • Japanese Cucumber - Japanese cucumbers are easy to find all over Hawaii (visit our local Farmers Markets for the best selection and quality!). We like to use Japanese cucumbers because they are: 1) more crunchy than "regular" cucumbers, and 2) have fewer seeds.
  • Salt - Hawaiian sea salt or kosher salt is ideal. But if you just have regular salt, can definitely use that. It will be delicious either way.
  • Sugar - Just regular granulated sugar.
  • Rice Vinegar - We usually use the Marukan brand which you can find at all Japanese supermarkets. In Hawaii you can also find it at all regular supermarkets, and even Longs Drugs!
A bowl of salted, thinly sliced Japanese cucumbers. And another bowl with sugar dissolved into rice vinegar.
Bottom: salted cucumber slices. Top: sugar dissolved into rice vinegar

Method

This recipe is super simple.

Wash and cut the cucumber. Cut it thin. How thin? That's up to you. Use a mandolin and go super thin. Or use a knife and go as thin as you can. I usually end up slicing the cucumber into ⅛-inch thick slices.

Some people prefer the cucumber slices thicker, others like it thinner. There's no real right or wrong. Also: do the best you can but don't stress about trying to make perfect or even slices.

Second step is to salt the cucumbers. Just place the sliced cucumbers in a bowl and sprinkle salt on top. Mix it gently and then let sit for 10 minutes.

The salt will help draw water out from the cucumber (so you can get a crunchier pickled cucumber). Drain out the water after 10 minutes.

Then in another, smaller bowl, dissolve the sugar into the rice vinegar. Pour that mixture over the salted cucumbers. Mix gently with a spoon. Cover and place it the refrigerator for an hour to let it "pickle."

Take it out after an hour. Eat and enjoy! If you want it more pickle-y, just marinate for longer. So easy, so ono ^_^

A bowl of thinly sliced Japanese cucumbers
Sliced cucumbers, with salt sprinkled on top.

How To Serve

We serve the cucumbers chilled and as a side dish to our meals.

A simple lunch/dinner at home would include:

  • Bowl of rice (always most important!)
  • A main dish...more main dish options in the next section ^_^
  • A vegetable or pickle side (like these Pickled Japanese cucumbers)
A whole Japanese cucumber, thinly sliced
Thinly sliced Japanese cucumber

Dish Pairings

These cucumbers go well with many Japanese dishes including:

It also pairs well with local-Japanese dishes. FYI: "local-Japanese" dishes are like a hybrid of traditional Japanese dishes and local Hawaii sensibilities. (Learn about how all cuisines get "Hawaii-ized" when they come to Hawaii in this post.)

Examples of local-Japanese dishes include:

A bowl of Pickled Japanese Cucumbers
Pickled Japanese Cucumbers

Tips and Questions

How long do these cucumbers keep?

3-4 days in the refrigerator, in a sealed container.

How long are you supposed to marinate the cucumbers in the vinegar?

The cucumbers will be ready to eat after an hour in the fridge, but you can marinate/pickle them longer if you'd like. If you cut the cucumbers on the thicker side, you might want to increase marination time to 2-3 hours.

Can't find a Japanese cucumber?

No worries. Just substitute with a Persian cucumber. Like Japanese cucumbers, Persian cucumbers are also more crunchy and have fewer seeds (compared to "regular" cucumbers).

Variations

I would try this recipe as-is for your first time. And then afterwards, you can try variations on the recipe. Popular variations include:
- adding a teaspoon of soy sauce.
- adding a teaspoon of sesame oil.
- mixing in chopped green onions.
- mixing in hijiki (make sure to rehydrate the hijiki first).

Make it pretty.

We just serve these cucumbers plain in a bowl. But sometimes it's nice to sprinkle roasted white sesame seeds on top just before serving. A small and thoughtful touch ^_^

Like it spicy?

Feel free to mix in 1 teaspoon of chili pepper flakes. We like the Korean red chili pepper flakes. This type of pepper flakes can be used in many other Onolicious recipes like Tofu Poke, Soy Sauce (Shoyu) Eggs (sprinkle the pepper on top right before serving), and Pan Fried Tofu with Garlic Soy Sauce.

Japanese Pickled Cucumbers Recipe

See below and enjoy ^_^

A bowl of Pickled Japanese Cucumbers

Japanese Pickled Cucumbers

Yield: Side dish for 3 people
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

These pickled cucumbers are fast and easy to make. All you need is the salt, sugar, rice vinegar...and the Japanese cucumber! We love this as a side dish to accompany everything from mochiko chicken to misoyaki butterfish.

Ingredients

Instructions

    1. Thinly slice the cucumber and place in a mixing bowl.
    2. Sprinkle salt on the cucumbers, toss. Let sit for 10 minutes. Drain the water.
    3. In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in the rice vinegar. Pour over the salted cucumbers.
    4. Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Ready to eat!
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