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Nana’s Cucumber and Onion Salad

This make-ahead Cucumber and Onion Salad is a summertime superstar. Simple and delicious, the fresh ingredients let the garden-fresh produce shine in this easy cucumber salad. From my Nana’s kitchen to yours, be the hit of your next BBQ or potluck with this classic cucumber salad recipe.

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. “Oh hell, just eyeball it” was her way to share the recipe.

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.

This 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 nonnas.

And while it is the exact opposite of this easy cucumber salad recipe, you may also be interested in my Nana’s Almond Roca Recipe. It was a 10-year quest by my aunt to recreate it after Nana’s passing.

Why You’ll Love This Easy Cucumber Salad

  • It’s so fast to make! Like 5 minutes total of hands-on time.
  • You can keep in the fridge for days and days. Total make-ahead/meal prep game changer.
  • It can be safely served at room temperature, which makes it the best dish for BBQs and potlucks.
  • Cucumber salad is super affordable! 

Do you love make-ahead salads? Sure you do! You have to check out this Zesty Instant Pot Quinoa Salad and Instant Pot Quinoa Salad. Both have alternative cooking instructions if you don’t have an Instant Pot!

What to Serve With Cucumbers and Onions?

This dish is awesome at BBQs because it is a light side dish that goes really well with heavier main dishes like burgers. 

It’s also great alongside Paleo Salmon Cakes or Fried Halloumi With Bruschetta Zoodles.

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 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.

What is the Best Vinegar for Cucumber and Onion Salad?

I use plain ol’ white vinegar but have also had great success with apple cider vinegar. Rice vinegar is also pretty dang delicious.

In my experience, red wine vinegar and flavored vinegar fought with the “dillness” of this recipe.

What Kind of Cucumbers to Use For Cucumber Onion Salad

Three types of cucumbers are typically available at most stores – slicing, pickling, and English.

Slicing cukes are uniform in size and have 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).

Conventional grocery store cucumbers are coated in wax for appearances. This wax can make the peel extremely tough and unappetizing in this cucumber salad recipe. Either peel fully or use the “tiger stripe” method listed below in the Tips/Tricks section.

This great post from The Spruce goes more in-depth into the cucumber differences. Because I know you’re berzerkin for the gherkin.

I use slicing or Persian cucumbers (tiny, extra crispy slicers) for this cucumber salad. When our DIY garden trellises are covered in cukes, this dish gets made on the daily.

Can This Dish Be Made Whole30 Compliant? What about Keto?

You betcha. Just leave out the sugar and then go rock on with your bad self. 

How To Make Cucumber and Onion Salad

In a microwave-proof container (I used a 4-cup glass measuring cup), microwave the vinegar and sugar on high for 2 minutes. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool.

To make this dish extra fast, I use a mandoline, but a sharp knife works too. Slice the cukes and onion thinly, and add to a large container that has a lid. process shots for cucumber and onion salad

Sprinkle the dill, sea salt, and celery seed into the bowl.

Pour the cooled vinegar mixture over the top. Stir to combine. Refrigerate for 1-12 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 you’re going to be 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! As the cucumbers sit in the brine, they will release their own liquids. Give everything a stir after a few hours and you’ll be good to go.

Variations

  • If you want to turn this into a creamy cucumber salad, add 1/3 cup of sour cream with 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the seasoning. Leave out the water.
  • To make this a cucumber tomato salad, add thinly sliced tomatoes just prior to serving.

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

More Healthy Vegetable Recipes

Nana’s Cucumber and Onion Salad WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS

One serving of Nana’s Cucumber and Onion Salad has 1 WW Freestyle SmartPoints.

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
Print
5 from 12 votes
Nana's Cucumber and Onion Salad
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
1 min
Chilling time
12 hrs
Total Time
11 mins
 

This make-ahead Cucumber and Onion Salad is a summertime star. Simple and delicious, the garden-fresh produce shines in this easy cucumber salad.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cucumber and onion salad, gluten-free side dish, vegetable side dish for a crowd
Servings: 10
Calories: 29 kcal
Ingredients
  • 6 cups cucumbers, thinly sliced 3 regular cukes or 6 pickling
  • 1 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 3/4 tsp celery seed
  • 1/2 onion thinly sliced
Instructions
  1. In a microwave-proof container, microwave the vinegar, water, and sugar on high for 2 minutes. 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 water 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 (0.5 cup)
Calories 29 Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Fat 1g2%
Saturated Fat 1g6%
Sodium 120mg5%
Potassium 117mg3%
Carbohydrates 5g2%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 1g2%
Vitamin A 55IU1%
Vitamin C 3mg4%
Calcium 17mg2%
Iron 0.2mg1%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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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.

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

  1. This is always a huge hit in the summer when the garden is exploding with cucumbers and I don’t want to heat up the kitchen making long-term pickles. Even my little eats these! He requests them by name, “I have frugalpants cucs, Mom?” Note: We call Sarah by MrFrugalpants…

    • Oh my gosh I forgot the stars!!!

      This is always a huge hit in the summer when the garden is exploding with cucumbers and I don’t want to heat up the kitchen making long-term pickles. Even my little eats these! He requests them by name, “I have frugalpants cucs, Mom?” Note: We call Sarah by MrFrugalpants…

      • LOL, thanks for taking the time to leave a review and stars!

        The fact that D calls me frugalpants just made my WHOLE YEAR!!!

  2. Super easy to make and so tasty, it’s going to become a summer staple in our house

    • Awww, Heather, that would make my Nana so happy! I’m thrilled you guys liked it! Thanks for taking the time to post a review. 🙂

  3. Hey Sarah! How would this be without sugar? A touch of coconut aminos maybe? I’m missing something on my salads, would normally have gherkins or beetroot.

    P

  4. You know those dinners made of this and that – whatever is in the refrigerator? Well, it was one of those days and I knew it wouldn’t add up to quite enough. Nana to the rescue! I started my dinner prep with this recipe and threw it in the refrigerator to chill while I finished the rest. It MAY be better with more time to marinate, but everyone in this family enjoyed it after about an hour! Cool, crisp, flavorful – a nice addition to any meal! (I seeded regular cucumbers for this.)

    • So glad to hear that A! It is one of those dishes that invites lots of substitution and personalization.

      I actually just updated the post and will be republishing it tomorrow. Good timing on your part!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

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

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  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. 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. 

  12. 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!  

  13. 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.

  14. 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…..

  15. 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! 🙂

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

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

  19. 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 🙂