One Easy Recipe for Killer Cucumber Salad
Cucumber salad, Every good tailgate party is defined by great grilled meats.
Great meats, no matter your skill on the grill, are defined by great salads. They’re the supporting cast of any cookout, and prepping them well can make or break your party.
The three vegetarian staples of any tailgate are potato, macaroni, or cucumber salad, and of those two, cucumber is far simpler and much less time-consuming than its heavier cousins.
A quality cucumber salad recipe is the perfect addition to an afternoon filled with brats, burgers, beer, and jerseys.
Look online, however, and you’ll find dozens of separate recipes, each requiring a list of awfully specific ingredients. It looks intimidating enough to give in, and settle for pre-packaged macaroni salad.
Don’t do it – cucumber salads, once you know the basics, are easy to make your own.
No other side dish requires so little prep time or preserves as well.
In short, don’t neglect the cucumber salad. Just know the basics.
3 Rules for Any Cucumber Salad
The first, most obvious rule for any cucumber salad is this:
1. Prep the Day Before
The point of having a cucumber or potato salad as a side isn’t just to give your tailgate variety – it’s to save you time.
You’ll have enough to do with parking, setting up, and grilling.
Prepping side dishes just takes away valuable social and game time.
Make your cucumber salad the night before, store it in the fridge, and remember to place it in your cooler before you go.
2. Don’t Spare the Seasoning
Cucumber salads have one major advantage over potato and macaroni – flavor.
Most recipes call for vinegar, pepper, garlic, onion – any sharp, cutting taste that compliments the milder flavor of the cucumber.
Given that most of your tailgate fare will be grilled meats, a sharper, biting cucumber salad is extremely complimentary.
3. Don’t Spare the Toppings
There are dozens of ways to make good cucumber salad and dozens of more ways to complement it.
Feta cheese on top is mild. Sliced jalapenos are not. Both are delicious. Consider bringing a few separate toppings, and your guests will have a unique opportunity to make each dish their own.
There you have it – prep early, make it sharp, and make it customizable.
Now, all you’ve left to do is pick your recipe.
6 Simple Ingredients for Great Cucumber Salad
Let’s start with the basics – cucumbers, onions, vinegar and sugar, and salt and pepper.
1. Cucumbers, of Course
Most online recipes recommend 2 cucumbers, but if you’re tailgating, consider 4.
Cucumber salad goes with anything and preserves well, so you’re better off with extra than with running out.
Remember two important things:
The more you have, the more salad you can make, and the more consistent your taste.
Coat with Salt
Before mixing your cucumber slices, remember that Farmer’s Market or home-grown cucumbers can have bitter juices. That just means you have fresh cucumbers, but it’s not a taste you want in your salad. Kosher salt will draw those juices out. Coat them, let them sit for 60 minutes, and then rinse well.
This is where a lot of online recipes get complicated. Every good cucumber salad needs a sliced onion. The really good ones use several different varieties. It all depends on how complicated you’d like your recipe to be.
This is a rule for nearly everything you put in cucumber salad. The biggest items have to be the cucumbers. Anything else is a distraction.
Don’t Overdo It
If you’re going for variety, it’s easy to keep adding different kinds of onions. Turning a cucumber salad into an onion salad is a mistake. A good ratio is one medium onion for every two cucumbers.
Try a Little Variety
By a wide margin, our greatest recommendation is shallots. Shallots are close cousins to onions – just less pungent, with a hint of garlic. Most people who hate onions either tolerate or love shallots, so this is a very worthwhile substitute or addition.
Good cucumber salads can be made with shallots alone, or with a combination of shallots and onions. The shallots are smaller, so you’ll need a medium handful if you’re doing a full substitution.
You might also consider mixing red and yellow onions, thinly sliced.
If you’re adding jalapenos, remember that yellow onions have the sharpest flavor. Too much of both, and you won’t taste the cucumber.
3. and 4. White Vinegar and Sugar
You need both. Vinegar alone will make a cucumber salad just above unbearable. The sugar takes the edge off.
This ingredient set has one very important rule:
Keep Their Ratios Consistent
We’ve seen any number of cucumber salad recipes that call for very different levels of white wine vinegar. Anything from 1/8 of a cup (or 2 tablespoons) up to an entire cup of vinegar per two cucumbers is acceptable.
The important thing to remember is that your sugar needs to be just less than half your vinegar.
If you’re using 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, use a teaspoon of sugar. If you’re using a cup of vinegar, use just under ½ a cup of sugar.
Again, Try Variety
The vinegar and sugar are for dressing. Like traditional salad dressings, there are a dozen odd ways you can make it, none of them wrong. Just make sure you have enough.
If you’re using a cup of vinegar per two cucumbers, you’ll probably be fine. If you’re using half a cup, you might need ½ a cup of water – or, if you’re going for a creamier option, mayonnaise.
You’ll be mixing the dressing with the cucumbers last, so feel free to taste and adjust at will.
5. and 6. Salt and Black Pepper
This part is easy. Use black pepper and salt in roughly equal ratios, at just under half the amount of sugar you used. If you used a tablespoon of sugar, use a teaspoon of black pepper.
A great variation for cucumber salad is dill for pepper. Substitute dill only if you’re using light pepper, however.
There you have it – cucumbers, onions, vinegar and sugar, and salt and pepper.
Now, all you need to do is put them together.
A Mouth-Watering Cucumber Salad Recipe in 5 Quick Steps
Matching your ingredients well is just as important as the ingredients themselves. We’ve taken one recipe and listed the possible variations below.
It’s very hard to go wrong. Experiment, test, taste, and enjoy.
1. Mix Your Dry Ingredients
After your cucumbers have been rinsed of the kosher or coarse salt, mix them in with the thinly sliced onions. Let this sit separately in the fridge – you’ll be adding the dressing on the morning of the tailgate.
Variations: Shallots, Garlic, or Jalapenos
Assuming you’re hosting a lot of people, the basic recipe calls for 4 cucumbers and 2 medium onions. If you want a more complex salad, substitute shallots for onions, or add minced garlic cloves, or add thin-sliced jalapenos.
2. Mix Your Dressing
For our basic recipe, let’s assume we’re using 1 cup of white wine vinegar. That means we’re using ½ cup of sugar, and adding up to ½ cup of water as needed. Feel free to add the water last, and only if, after mixing the next morning, you don’t think the salad is moist enough.
That is, quite literally, all there is to it. You need to add salt and pepper tomorrow, but that’s it. It’s almost too simple, and why we recommend variations.
Variations: Mayonnaise, or Mayonnaise and Sour Cream
If you want a creamier version of cucumber salad, cut your vinegar and sugar in half, and add either mayonnaise or an even mix of mayo and sour cream.
This will cut the sharp and pungent aroma by quite a bit. If you have guests who are sensitive to sharp tastes, pick the mayo. If you want a sharp contrast, pick the vinegar.
If you’re mixing jalapenos in with the cucumber and onion, do not use mayo (sliced jalapenos as a topping can still mesh well).
3. Wait for Morning
Remember, half the point of making cucumber salad is saving time. Prep the night before, put your mix and dressing in the fridge, and go to bed. You’ve enough to do tomorrow without worrying about side dishes.
4. Add Salt and Pepper
Be sure to add salt and black pepper before the dressing is mixed in. Remember your ratios – if you’ve used 2 tablespoons of vinegar, use a teaspoon of black pepper, and a teaspoon of salt.
Variation: Fresh Chopped Dill
Almost every cucumber salad recipe calls for fresh chopped or diced dill, even though it’s not an absolute necessity.
Dill is a strong seasoning, on par with black pepper, so you’ve three options: just black pepper, just dill, or a 2 to 1 dill to pepper ratio.
In short, if you use dill, forget the pepper, or use twice as much dill as pepper.
Mix in the salt and pepper, salt and dill, or salt and pepper and dill, and you’re ready for dressing.
5. Add Toppings
There are limitless varieties of toppings for cucumber salad.
Feta cheese and jalapenos work with either vinegar or cream. Grilled shrimp and sliced avocado go well with both. Grilled pineapple goes well with creamy dressing.
Experiment a bit, and you’ll find a recipe all your own.
Don’t Stress – This is the Easy Part
A good cucumber salad is meant to take the pressure off the rest of your tailgate.
Even though it’s fun, it’s still entertaining guests, which carries with it a certain amount of stress. Easy recipes help the host, and nothing is easier than a cucumber salad.
Slice thin, salt and rinse, mix with onions or shallots, mix your vinegar or mayo, and add your salt, pepper, and toppings.
You can’t go wrong, and neither will your guests.