An izakaya, or Japanese pub staple, yamitsuki kyuri means addictive cucumber in Japanese—an effortless salad served ice cold and requiring almost no recipe. Derived from Chinese and Korean salads, recipes for yamitsuki kyuri vary but typically feature coarsely chopped—even smashed— cucumbers that are salted to remove excess water and then tossed with sesame oil.
Restaurants often add a touch of dashi or chicken bouillon powder for umami, but here, we add vinegar for freshness and suggest optional additions like garlic, ginger or chili flakes to spice things up.
Japanese cucumbers have thin skins that do not require peeling, and a firm, crunchy flesh with minimal seeds. In America, deseeded Persian or English cucumbers can be used.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Coarsely chop deseeded cucumbers into rough one-inch planks on the bias. For dramatic flair and to maximize seasoning absorption, place whole cucumbers on a cutting board and whack lightly with a rolling pin, breaking the flesh open slightly before deseeding and chopping into irregular, bite-size pieces.
In a large bowl, toss chopped cucumber with salt, massaging gently with hands. Drain over a sieve for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast sesame seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat for 2–3 minutes until golden and fragrant. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce, sesame oil and vinegar.
Squeeze cucumbers gently with hands to remove excess water and return to bowl. Toss with dressing.
Taste and adjust seasonings to preference, adding small amounts of grated ginger, garlic paste or chili flakes if desired. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
To serve, chop shiso leaves in a fine julienne or coarsely chop cilantro. Garnish cucumbers with sesame seeds and a flurry of herbs. Serve immediately while cold. Serves 4–6 as a side dish.
Japanese Whiskey Pairing
Japanese whisky highballs
Whisky highballs became popular in post-WWII Japan as an inexpensive, thirst-quenching way to enjoy whisky. Composed of Japanese whisky and soda water served over ice, it’s an easy two-ingredient cocktail that’s invigorating as an aperitif.
The classic formula for a whisky highball is one part whisky to 3–4 parts soda water. Chill glasses in the freezer in advance. Pour whisky over ice, then add chilled soda water. Stir to combine and garnish with a twist of citrus. Japanese yuzu offers a uniquely floral, herbal tang but lemon, lime or grapefruit peels work well, too.