German Cucumber Salad is an easy way to use up your cucumbers and add a healthy, light side dish to your lunch or dinner. This beloved German dish, known as Gurkensalat, is characterized by a tangy vinegar dressing and lots of fresh dill.
Why This Recipe Works
- Creamy and Tangy Options: German cucumber salad comes in two varieties: one is rich and creamy, the other is sweet and tangy. You can make either option with this recipe, by swapping out just one ingredient.
- Accessible: This is quite a simple salad recipe. There aren’t too many ingredients, and cucumbers are pretty much available year round.
- Healthy: You don’t need loads of oil or sugar to make the salad dressing for gurkensalat. It’s quite light and allows the flavours of the dill and cucumber to shine through.
What You’ll Need
A few important notes on some of the ingredients used in this Gurkensalat recipe:
Cucumber: No need to peel the cucumber, just slice it as thinly as possible. You can use basically any cucumber here, except what is known as the “American cucumber,” which has seeds and a thick, bitter skin. I prefer to use the “English cucumber” which is probably the most common cucumber variety at your grocery store. It’s the perfect size to use, and also has a nice delicate cucumber flavour.
Red Onion: Red onions taste sharper than yellow or white onions, but they’re also quite sweet. This combination of pungent and sweet makes them the perfect salad onion. Can substitute with a spoonful of dehydrated onion flakes.
Fresh Dill: This is the classic herb that Germans use in their cucumber salad. Fresh dill has the strongest and best flavour. You can use dried dill if you must, but it won’t quite taste the same.
Got extra dill? I’ve been overrun with fresh dill recently from my parents’ backyard. If you have a similar problem, check out my recipes for Avgolemono, Borscht, or Paruppu Vadai for more ways to use it up.
White Vinegar: You can also use white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar instead.
Oil: Use a neutral-tasting oil like sunflower seed oil or vegetable oil. For the creamy version of gurkensalat, substitute the oil with 1/4 cup of sour cream or Cashew Yogurt.
Sugar: Adds some sweetness to cut through the tangy vinegar. It’s essential to balance out the flavours. You can use a sweetener like stevia or erythritol if avoiding sugar.
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Substitutions + Variations
There are two types of German cucumber salad. One features a simple sweet and tangy vinegar dressing, and the second one is a richer version with a creamy dressing made of sour cream or yogurt. The creamy version is similar to the Polish mizeria.
To convert between the two dressings, it’s pretty simple. Just swap out oil (from the vinegar dressing) for sour cream or yogurt (to make creamy dressing).
Step 1: Slice the cucumber into coins, as thin as possible. Massage with salt and set aside in the fridge.
Step 2: Mix together the dressing ingredients (dill, vinegar, oil or sour cream, sugar, and black pepper).
Tip: For bigger batches of gurkensalat, you can use a mandoline slicer to get quick, evenly thin cucumber slices. I strongly recommend operating a mandoline with cut-resistant gloves. Do a Google search for mandoline mishaps and you’ll see why!
Step 3: Squeeze and drain the water from the cucumbers. Toss with dressing.
Step 4: Top with sliced red onion. Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve!
Did you know: Salting the cucumbers allows them to release excess water and it leaves the drained cucumbers nice and crunchy. It’ll also prevent your salad from getting watery.
Make Ahead & Storage Tips
Fridge: You can make gurkensalat up to three days before serving. Keep it chilled in a covered container. In fact, many people swear that the flavour of this cucumber salad improves after an overnight rest in the fridge.
Freezer: Freezing fresh cucumbers will change their texture and make them a bit mushy. I don’t recommend freezing this dish.
Cucumber salad isn’t exclusively a German dish. Many cuisines have a version of cucumber salad, such as Chinese smashed cucumber salad, cucumber bean curd salad, Indian kachumber salad, Korean spicy cucumber salad, and more. But Germany’s iconic dill-cucumber salad, known as Gurkensalat, is definitely one of the most famous out there.
Gurkensalat is the German term for cucumber salad. Gurken means “cucumber” and salat means “salad.” It’s a popular side dish in German cuisine and is typically made with sliced cucumbers, onions, and a dressing that can include ingredients like vinegar, oil, sugar, dill, and sometimes sour cream or yogurt for creaminess. Gurkensalat can vary in flavor and preparation, with regional and personal variations throughout Germany. It’s known for its refreshing taste and is often served alongside traditional German dishes such as schnitzel, sausages, or as a complement to hearty meals.
The main distinction between creamy German cucumber salad and German cucumber salad with vinegar lies in their dressings. Creamy German cucumber salad features a rich and smooth dressing typically made with sour cream or yogurt. In contrast, German cucumber salad with vinegar incorporates a tangy and zesty dressing made with vinegar, oil, sugar, and seasonings, delivering a refreshing taste. Both variations use cucumber slices and may include herbs like dill, but the choice between them depends on personal preference for creamy richness or a more tangy, vinegar-based profile.
To prevent cucumber salad from becoming soggy, you just need to lightly salt the sliced cucumbers to draw out excess moisture before draining and patting them dry. Massage the salt into the cucumbers and let sit for at least 30 minutes for them to release excess water. Keep the salad chilled until just before serving, adding the dressing at the last moment to prevent the cucumbers from becoming overly wet. Using English cucumbers, which have thinner skin and fewer seeds, can also help maintain the salad’s crispness.
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Gurkensalat (German Cucumber Salad)
Use Imperial/Metric buttons below to toggle between volume vs weight measurements. I recommend weighing out your ingredients for best results.
- Mandoline slicer (*optional)
- 1 English cucumber
- ¾ kosher salt or 1/2 tsp fine salt + more to taste
- ¼ small red onion *can sub with 1 tbsp of dehydrated onion flakes or 1 tsp onion powder
- ¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
- 1 tbsp white vinegar *can sub with white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp oil *can sub with 1/4 cup sour cream or Cashew Yogurt; see Note 1
- ½ tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- Slice the cucumber into coins, as thin as possible. (No need to peel.) Massage with salt and set aside in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
- Meanwhile, thinly slice the red onion. Mix together the dressing ingredients (dill, vinegar, oil or sour cream, sugar, and black pepper).
- Squeeze and drain the water from the cucumbers. Salting cucumber slices allows them to release excess water and it leaves the drained cucumbers nice and crunchy. It’ll also prevent your salad from getting watery.
- Mix the drained cucumber slices together with the red onion. Toss with dressing. Add more salt if needed.
- Oil, Sour Cream, or Yogurt? There are two types of German cucumber salad. One features a simple sweet and tangy vinegar dressing, and the second one is a richer version with a creamy dressing. To convert between the two dressings, it’s pretty simple. Just swap out oil (in the vinegar dressing) for sour cream or yogurt (to make creamy dressing).