This refreshing German cucumber salad (gurkensalat) is a summer tradition: thinly sliced cucumbers and onions in a vinegary dressing.

German cucumber salad

Growing up, German cucumber salad meant summer. There wasn’t a meal that this cucumber salad couldn’t complement. Because of my dad’s German heritage, he called it gurkensalat. Alex’s family was decidedly less fancy, and simply called it “pickles”. Whatever you call it, a good cucumber salad can’t be beat in the summer. Here, we’re sharing my family’s gurkensalat recipe, tweaked a bit for our taste. It’s easy to prepare, and requires only a few ingredients. It’s a great accompaniment to a summer meal: perhaps some grilled salmon or burgers?

Or, try it creamy! Try our Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream.

Cucumbers

How to make German cucumber salad

German cucumber salad is easy to make, but it does take a little patience. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Slice the veggies at thin as possible. The trick to mastering this cucumber salad is to slice the onions and cucumbers as thinly as possible. If you have a mandolin, now would be a great time to whip it out. Otherwise, taking the time to slice the veggies thinly with a knife will work. Slicing the cucumber and onion thinly allows the salt to draw out most of the moisture, and gives this salad the most incredible texture.
  • Let it sit! The other key component of German cucumber salad is time. Once the cucumbers and onions have been salted, they need time to rest to allow the salt to do its work. After you’ve drained them and added in the vinegar and sugar, the salad shout sit for another 15 minutes to let the flavors come together.

Video: How to cut an onion

What speeds up the prep in this German cucumber salad is your knife skills! You’ll need to know how to properly slice an onion. Here’s our step by step guide for how to cut an onion, including a video of me cutting an onion in our kitchen. Fast forward to the slicing an onion step: typically we slice our onions into half moons for this cucumber salad.

Serving suggestions

This German cucumber salad is perfect for summer meals! Here are some of our favorite mains that would pair well with this salad:

Cucumber salads around the world

Cucumber salad is enjoyed in many nations of the world! Here are a few different spins using the hydrating cucumber as a base:

  • Shepherd salad from Turkey features tomatoes, cucumbers, feta and olives, covered in a lemony vinaigrette.
  • Greek salad uses much of the same ingredients, arranged in a flat layer on a plate with a simple oil and vinegar drizzle.
  • Thai cucumber salad features red pepper, cashews and cilantro, covered in a dressing made with Thai red curry paste.
  • Cucumber salad with sour cream from Poland features shallots, dill and a sour cream dressing.

This German cucumber salad recipe is…

Vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, plant-based, and dairy-free.

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German Cucumber Salad


  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 8 1x

Description

This refreshing German cucumber salad (gurkensalat) is a summer tradition: thinly sliced cucumbers and onions in a vinegary dressing.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 large cucumbers
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper

Instructions

  1. Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible, using a mandolin if desired. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Layer the cucumbers and onions in a large shallow bowl, sprinkling salt between each layer and alternating onion layers between cucumbers. Let stand for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, then drain thoroughly.
  2. Transfer to a serving bowl. Add ½ cup white vinegar, 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, fresh ground pepper and additional salt, if desired. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in a few ice cubes and let stand 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Category: Salad
  • Method: Raw
  • Cuisine: German

Keywords: German cucumber salad, gurkensalat, cucumber salad

Looking for more easy side dishes?

Outside of this German cucumber salad, here are a few more favorite summer side dish recipes:

Last updated: March 2020

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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35 Comments

  1. I haven’t tried a cucumber salad like this before. I feel I am missing out. SO simple, but I bet it packs a punch and I am liking the thought of it on a burger.

    1. When I mentioned burgers I was thinking of the cucumbers as a side, but I love the idea of using them as a burger topping! Great thought :)

  2. This is one of our favorite summer salads! What a great way to use all the cucumbers we have in the garden!

  3. When I was in Ukraine a few years ago, we would have a similar salad except it had tomatoes in it. I love the acidity from the vinegar! yum.

    BTW – just got a fabulous book in the mail yesterday! :) Bjork read it to me while I was making dinner. New tradition! :) Thanks you two!!

    1. Yum, that would excellent with tomatoes – like pickled salsa…

      I’m imagining Bjork reading it in his best Bittmanesque New York accent :)

  4. I am starting to get great gobs of cucumbers and I brought some into work today. My co-worker and I were just talking about this salad. Thanks for posting so timely!

  5. My mother used to make this and I never paid attention to how she made it. She’s no longer alive so I couldn’t ask her. Anytime I tried to make it it never tasted the same. I was missing the sugar.The one thing she did differently was to put a few ice cubes in it to, in her words, crisp it up.

    1. Funny – our recipe also called for stirring in a few ice cubes too, but I left it out since I thought the refrigerator would do something similar. I’ll have to try it again and see if it “crisps up” like your mom alleges! :)

  6. I’ve had many a cucumber salad with vinegar, but I’ve never added sugar before, nor have I let the cucumbers set out to release some of the water content. I followed your recipe and the results were fantastic. This is my new go-to. I like knowing the German name for it, too; it makes it more special.

    1. I’m so glad you liked it! Yes, Gurkensalat sounds much more fancy than plain old cucumber salad, doesn’t it? :)

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