Sustainable Cooks
First Time Visiting? Start Here!

Nana’s Cucumber and Onion Salad

Share the love

Delicious, refreshing, and simple, this make-ahead Cucumber and Onion Salad is a summertime superstar. Simple, wholesome, real food ingredients let the garden-fresh produce shine. From my Nana’s kitchen to yours, be the hit of your next BBQ or potluck with this classic side dish.

cucumber and onion salad in two bowls with cucumbers and a fork on a white background

My Nana always made the best food.  She was the head of our family’s tradition of “dump cooking”, as in you dump stuff in without really measuring.

Almost all of us have followed in her footsteps, and a typical sharing of a recipe involves words like “10 shakes of…a palm full of…oh hell, just eyeball it”.

One of Nana’s best savory dishes was a sliced cucumber and onion salad.  It was refreshing and usually served during family BBQs in summer. It was always best when the cucumbers were grown in her garden.

Each time I’ve brought this dish to an event, I’m asked for the recipe.  My sister has taken it to BBQs and got cornered for the details.

The cucumber and onion salad is delicious, but more importantly, I think it is so popular because it reminds people of childhood.  It reminds them of grandmas, nanas, and nonis.

What Ingredients are in Cucumber and Onion Salad?

cucumbers, a bowl of salt, onions, celery seed, vinegar, dill, and sugar on a white board

Try not to be overcome with surprise, but the main two ingredients are cucumbers (slicers and/or Persians) and onions. I’ll pause to pick you up off the floor. So glad you didn’t hit your head.

If you’re smart, you’ll use Walla Walla sweet onions because they rule, and I am a proud Washingtonian.

You’ll also find vinegar, dill, sea salt, celery seed, and a little bit of sugar.

I really dialed down the sugar content compared with what Nana used and other recipes you may see. Maybe it is just me, but when I am eating cucumbers and onions, I am not looking for a candied veg side dish.

Wait. Is that how sweet pickles got started?

Three types of cucumbers are typically available at most stores – slicing, pickling, and English. Slicing cukes are uniform in size and have a dark green skin. Pickling cukes are smaller and squat with tiny seeds.

English cucumbers are sweeter than slicing cucumbers and have teeny tiny seeds. They’re also ridiculously sold wrapped in plastic (to protect their more delicate skin). This great post from The Spruce goes more in-depth into the cucumber differences. Because you know, you’re berzerkin for the gherkin.

I use slicing or Persian cucumbers (tiny, extra crispy slicers) for this salad.

Can This Dish Be Made Whole30 Compliant?

You betcha. Just leave out the sugar and then go rock on with your bad self. And rejoice, because there is no meat in this dish. You’re really sick of meat, aren’t you? I feel your pain.

How Do You Make Cucumber and Onion Salad?

In a microwave-proof container, microwave the vinegar and sugar on high for 2 minutes. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool.

Slice the cukes and onion thinly, and add to a large container that has a lid.process shots for cucumber and onion salad

Add the dill, sea salt, and celery seed.

Pour the cooled vinegar/sugar solution over the top. Stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.Process shots for cucumber and onion salad

Pro Tips/Recipe Notes for Cucumber and Onion Salad

  • Need to make more or less of the recipe? Click and slide the “servings” number on the recipe card and the ingredients will adjust as needed. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
  • Unpeeled cucumbers become tough. If you peel the cucumbers all the way, they get mushy. If using regular cucumbers peel a few strips off (will give a bitchin’ striped effect) and it is the perfect texture compromise.
  • The brine (liquid) won’t cover all the veggies completely. That’s ok! Give it a stir after a few hours and you’ll be good to go.

A white bowl full of cucumber and onion slices, and small bowls full of salt and dill

Making this recipe or others?

Post a photo on my Facebook page, share it on Instagram, or save it to Pinterest with the tag #sustainablecooks. I can't wait to see your take on it!

two bowls of cucumber and onion salad on a gray cloth
5 from 5 votes
Nana's Cucumber and Onion Salad
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
1 min
Total Time
11 mins

Delicious, refreshing, and simple, this make-ahead Cucumber and Onion Salad is a summertime superstar.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cucumber and onion salad, gluten-free side dish, vegetable side dish for a crowd
Servings: 10
Calories: 38 kcal
  • 6 cups cucumbers, thinly sliced 3 regular cukes or 6 pickling
  • 1 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 3/4 tsp celery seed
  • 1/2 onion thinly sliced
  1. In a microwave-proof container, microwave the vinegar, water, and sugar on high for 2 minutes. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool.

  2. Slice the cucumbers and onion thinly, and add to a large container that has a lid. 

  3. Add the dill, sea salt, and celery seed.

  4. Pour the cooled vinegar/sugar solution over the top. Stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

Recipe Notes

Unpeeled cucumbers become tough. If you peel the cucumbers all the way, they get mushy. If using regular cucumbers peel a few strips off (will give a bitchin' striped effect) and it is perfect texture compromise.


The brine (liquid) won't cover all the veggies completely. That's ok! Give it a stir after a few hours and you'll be good to go.

Nutrition Facts
Nana's Cucumber and Onion Salad
Amount Per Serving
Calories 38
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 119mg 5%
Potassium 116mg 3%
Total Carbohydrates 7g 2%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Sugars 6g
Protein 0g 0%
Vitamin A 1.1%
Vitamin C 3.6%
Calcium 1.7%
Iron 1.3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

This post contains affiliate links and we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you if you click through and make a purchase. This allows me to continue to provide free content, and I only share products that I use and love myself.

This post was originally published in August 2013. It has been retested and updated with reader feedback. New photos have been added and the recipe has been made printable.

Shop this Post:

(may include affiliate links)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

23 comments on “Nana’s Cucumber and Onion Salad”

  1. My auntie and your Nana sound similar… she made a version of this salad. I have changed up her recipe as well. The original called for TWO cups of sugar. I use about a 1/4-1/2 and prefer rice vinegar to white. We treat her chocolate covered peanut butter balls like your Nana’s roca…. Wow I miss that lady. Thanks for the trip down memory lane 🙂

  2. I totally agree with half peeling cucumbers. It seems to be the perfect balance and it looks pretty too!

  3. My Louis Dean LOVES cucumbers so I am buying the ingredients on my way home from Quadville today and making it as soon I get there! PLUS I am going back to PIN IT! I am new to doing that so I hope my friends will be impressed!

  4. This is a lot like Japanese Sunomono. We make it all the time in my family, but it’s biggest at New Years which is huge for Japanese peeps. We sometimes will add octopus, clams or shrimp, but it’s usually just the cucumbers and rice noodles. It’s my favorite thing in the world and yes, it reminds me of my Ba-chan.

  5. our family always did what I think is called ‘german cucumber salad’ and the quick version is basically vinegar and mayo …I’ll have to try this one! 🙂

  6. You triggered my memory. My grandmother and mother both made cucumber salad almost exactly the same way, only they served it with a bowl of sour cream on the side. It is one of the most refreshing side dishes for the summer. Going to make it now…..

  7. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. It was the perfect way to use cucumbers we’d been given. I made it when my parents came to visit and everyone loved it. I’m taking it to a barbecue tomorrow. I’ve been sharing your page with everyone, I love it so much. I have seen similar recipes online that use a LOT more sugar, but this is perfect and refreshing.

  8. I need to try cucumbers and onions again.  As a kid, the vinegar made me gag.  I really liked the recipe my mom made that included a creamy, delicious sauce that went over the cucumber and onions.  I’m thinking it’s time to give the good old vinegar infused cucs a try again!  

  9. This is my husband’s absolute fav summer food. We also cut the sugar WAY down and the heat WAY up which makes everyone happy. 

    If I could leave a picture of my newly cleaned and organized pantry it counts as pantry porn. I am so happy (and probably a little high from the bleach and ammonia) at how pretty it is…for now. 

  10. My mom made this but also put in tomatoes. Where there are cucumbers growing, there will probably be tomatoes so throw some in. Oooo, just writing this is making my mouth water. 😋

    • I have a thing where tomatoes do not belong in the fridge (it makes them mushy and mealy) so I would 100% get on board with the tomatoes if they were added in the last minute. I agree with you though, tomatoes and cucumbers just go hand and hand!

  11. The recipe calls for cool water-at what point do I add the water? Thanks!

    • Hi Amy, yes it is noted in the first step of the recipe. I updated it on Saturday after I published the recipe (when another reader pointed that question out), so you may need to refresh your browser if the changes are showing up. Basically, you just add it with the vinegar and sugar.

  12. I can smell this dish just looking at your pictures. I totally remember my parents making this as a kid and thinking it was just nasty…but I’d like to think my tastebuds are more mature nowadays! No way I’d ever get hubby to try it though :/

    • Not even a no thank you bite for the hubs?

      • Ugh, probably not. The vinegar would be too strong for him…he won’t eat vinegar/sea salt chips either. More for me I guess! Although man, I wish I’d ever be able to make this with home grown cucumbers…but mine are looking terrible this year! Some of them are yellowed/shriveled (too much water? Not enough? I don’t even know anymore) and the squirrels have been digging in my planter box too 🙁

      • I have such a terrible track record with cucumbers so I wouldn’t be of any help with diagnosing the problem. With my tomatoes, crispy leaves are lack of water, but yellow sad leaves are generally over watering or they need a nice dressing of composted chicken crap.

        Freaking squirrels!

  13. I love cucumber salad! This recipe is very similar to the one I make!! Thanks for sharing!

  14. Super refreshing salad and I really appreciated the recipe going easy on the sugar! As an aside, I had no idea English cucumbers were the only ones sold in plastic. Here, we just call them cucumbers!

  15. Oh man, this recipe makes me miss Walla Walla onions so much! There’s nothing over here that replicates that perfect sweetness. Cucumbers + onions is such a genius yet simple combination, and I love how the quick picking mellows out the bite of the onions and gives the salad tang. Perfection!