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Japanese rice vinegar (Recipe: cucumber ribbon salad) {vegan, gluten-free}

Slice cucumbers lengthwise for this refreshing "ribbon" salad.

What's now called Boston's Leather District used to be a gritty few blocks of warehouse buildings filled with tanneries and industrial yarn makers, and publishing companies looking for cheap office space.

Thirty years ago I worked for one of those publishers, in the top floor of a converted loft space with huge Palladian windows on all four sides. The view was tailor-made for those of us "creative" types who liked to stare out the window while pretending to "create"; one bank of windows overlooked the train tracks, another the downtown skyline, a third the hypnotic expressway traffic.

On the fourth side an equally tall building blocked our view of Chinatown, just three blocks away.

Proximity to Chinatown was the best part of my job -- that, and the fact that a co-worker knew all the words to the Groucho Marx song, "Lydia the Tattooed Lady". On my walk home, I could shop at the grocery stores and small markets for fresh vegetables and new-to-me pantry items like chili paste with garlic, oyster sauce, and Japanese rice vinegar.

Rice vinegar (also known as rice wine vinegar) is made from distilled fermented white rice, slowly brewed over a period of one month. The flavor is mild, almost drinkable, and less acidic than vinegars made from wine.


When a recipe calls for rice vinegar, generally it means this type of vinegar. There are Korean rice vinegars (much stronger), and Chinese rice vinegars (red and chinkiang), and shao hsing wine, which is not vinegar but is made from rice.

My local supermarket carries Marukan brand, in the aisle with the balsamic and white wine vinegars, and Asian markets also stock the Mitsukan brand; both are good, and will keep for months at room temperature in your pantry. If you can't find rice vinegar, you can substitute cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or brown rice vinegar.

What you should not substitute, unless a recipe calls for it, is seasoned rice vinegar -- which is rice vinegar pumped up with a frightening amount of sugar and salt. Often called sushi vinegar, this is one convenience food I've banished from my pantry.

Cucumber ribbon salad with sesame and rice vinegar.

Cucumber ribbon salad

From the pantry, you'll need: rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, red pepper flakes.

An easy and refreshing summer salad with a tartness that makes it the perfect accompaniment to rich foods like salmon. If you have a mandoline, now's the time to use it; if not, use a vegetable peeler to make the long, thin ribbons. The salt will draw water out of the cucumber, so make this right before you're ready to eat. Serves 3-4.


1 large, very firm English (seedless) cucumber
1/4 cup Japanese rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch red pepper flakes
black sesame seeds, for garnish


Trim the ends off the cucumber. Cut the cucumber in half to make two pieces approximately six inches long. Using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, slice the cucumber lengthwise into thin ribbons, and place in a mixing bowl.

Combine the vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, salt and red pepper flakes in a small glass measuring cup, and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Taste, and adjust seasoning to your liking. Pour over the cucumber ribbons, and toss well, but very gently, to thoroughly coat the cucumber. Place in a serving bowl, and garnish with black sesame seeds.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More vinegar-y recipes:

Vinegar veggies
Asian slaw
Carrot beet salad
Cold aubergine salad
Tomato nectarine chutney

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Broiled salmon glazed with Dijon and rice vinegar, from Food Wishes
Pickled daikon, from Just One Cookbook
Kimchi, from David Lebovitz
Garlicky roasted broccoli, from The Kitchn
Stir fry ginger beef, from Simply Recipes

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I just made something very like this (ok, nearly the same, my standard recipe which also has some minced onion in it) with the first garden harvest (3 cucumbers). I just LOVE it. I could eat it all day.

Yes, it's a great side dish... sometimes it is hard to distinguish all the types of Asian vinegars and rice spirits, though; I'm not always sure what a recipe demands.

What a refreshing salad for the dog days of summer (and so attractive too)!

Looks good and appetizing! Got to try that. Thanks for sharing.

Oh thank goodness for this recipe! I just inspected the cucumber plants this morning and I'm going to need a lot of cucumber intensive recipes. This looks so delicious and right up my alley.

Simple salads like this really appeal to me in the summertime when I want meals to be ready in 10 minutes. :-)

I first started using rice vinegar in Saipan years ago and had a horrible time distinguishing all the different types because none of the labels were in English. I have used Marukan and Mitsukan, and as you say, both are good. And yes, avoiding the seasoned rice vinegars is best due to the salt and sugar content, but one that comes to mind (Nakano) even uses HFCS, definitely one to avoid.

good breakdown on the vinegars!I didn't realize the variations between countries. I will admit to stocking/using the seasoned version when I am feeling lazy to make quick salad dressings/marinades.

PS I work blocks from your old building and hypnotic is one word for that traffic - insane is another!

I use rice vinegar every day in my salad, it's my fave. Love your ribbons too, very nice.

I made this for lunch, delicious. Thanks

Nothing like a cool cucumber side dish on a hot summer day. And I love rice vinegar. I use it in raw vegetable salads, and sprinkle it on rice and quinoa dishes- hot or cold. It gives everything a big flavor boost.

I used Japanese rice vinegar a lot, even with Vietnamese cooking (since I am lazy to stock too many things). Your salad is a perfect side dish for summer!

Rebecca, Julia: you're so lucky to have your own garden cucumbers. I'm so envious!

Paul, same here. I experiment a lot to find ones I like.

Sandie, the rice vinegar really brightens this up and makes it a perfect picnic dish, too.

Akwe, hope you enjoy it.

Andrea, thanks so much -- I didn't know that Nakano has HFCS. Definitely one to avoid!

Carol, using the seasoned is fine, as long as you cut out the salt and sugar in the recipe -- otherwise, you're "double dosing" by using the seasoned version.

Noble Pig, I find myself using it more and more.

Satonahat, you did? Fantastic! Did you use cukes from your garden?

Karina, I've been using it on quinoa salads, too. It's a new combination for me, but one I like.

Anh, I can't think of any times I've used rice vinegar for Vietnamese cooking, but why not?!

My Mom made kyuurimomi all the time, but she arrived in the US after WWII and you could look all year and never find a bottle of Japanese rice vinegar in the small copper mining town we lived in, so she always made it with white vinegar. Recently I tried making kyuurimomi with rice vinegar and I have to admit I like, or am accustomed to, the taste of white vinegar. I think the only difference other than the vinegar was the addition of soy sauce, and of course Mom used good old American cucumbers, that was the only cucumber available back in the mid-40’s.

This is my "go to" preparation for summer cucumbers - but I'm going to have to try the ribbon approach and the black sesame seeds - wonderful!

Lydia, I've started buying several bottles of rice vinegar when I'm at the Asian market. I use it for practically anything that calls for vinegar, it is so much more adaptable than a harsh vinegar.

Cucumbers and vinegar are my favorite veggie to eat during the summer, they are a match made it heaven! I think rice vinegar is my favorite basic vinegar and this recipe uses it perfectly! My mouth is watering.

Lydia, your salad looks delicious! I think I will finally give in and buy a mandoline. :-)

You answered a long-recurring question for me: what is the difference between rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar? It was one of those little, annoying things that came back occasionally to annoy me - thanks for banishing it!

AZ, it's funny, what you get used to -- there are definitely some tastes of childhood that I still prefer too.

TW, the ribbons aren't just an excuse to buy a mandoline.... you can use a vegetable peeler, but a mandoline makes it easy.

Pam, there's always more variety at the Asian markets. I stock up whenever I go.

Jason, I've been using rice vinegar more and more.

Judy, glad to clear that up! And do treat yourself to a mandoline. It's a wonderful kitchen tool.

Beautiful and simple. I can't resist a cucumber salad, and rice vinegar is one of my pantry staples.

I just know that I would enjoy this recipe. Thanks very much for sharing and your photography is great. I know it can sometimes be a challenge to take a dish like this and make the camera love it but you did that very well.

I was looking for something to do with rice vinegar and came across this recipe. I didn't have the sesame oil or seeds on hand, but it came out just fine. The coolest part, for me, was learning about the cucumber "ribbons." I never had even thought of that! (I'm not a particularly experienced chef-- just a guy who has enjoyed preparing nice dishes now and then.) Looking forward to making it again with all the ingredients!

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