Thai cucumber salad (Yum Tang Gwa)


I picked four fat cucumbers from my garden the other day.  This is my first time growing cucumbers – in fact my very first time growing a garden of my own.  I've never before tasted cucumbers this fresh from the plant.  They were crisp, sweet, and perhaps – no, definitely – the best cucumbers I've ever tasted.  I am sure these cucumbers are the best tasting in the same sense that my cat (or your dog, or your kid for that matter) is the cutest thing ever.  But hey, why burst our bubble?

Anyway, since these cucumbers were the best ever, I couldn't possibly just use any recipe for it.  I grew these babies with blood, sweat, and tears.  Ok, not  really, I put the starter plants Cynthia gave me into the grown and gave them water and they practically grew themselves.  Hmm, now where were we, oh, yes.. growing them with blood, sweat, and tears – or just dirt and water, rather – I wanted something special the celebrate them.  A little bit of tinkering in the kitchen produced this recipe, a salad of crisp cucumber slices.  It's not exactly Thai, but the inspiration certainly is from that general direction.  

The dressing here is a classic Thai blend of lime juice, fish sauce, chilli, and a pinch of sugar.  I don't want the lime juice to be so pronounced and to overpower the brightness of the cucumbers, so I use a little less and temper it with a bit of rice vinegar.  If your fish sauce is old and getting quite stinky, I suggest using a bit less and adding some salt instead as well.  You want the dressing to be light, bright, and delicious, not stinky, sharp, and muddy, so be careful.  A little bit of herb gives the salad a lovely complexity, so I suggest Tia To or Vietnamese Perilla if you can find it (regular Shiro leafs or just plain mint will do in a pinch), and also a bit of cilantro.  Finish the salad with a generous sprinkle of toasted coconut flakes and fried shallots, and there you have it.  The salad in the picture has some poached shrimp in it, since I had that for lunch and thought I needed a little protein.  You can skip it entirely, or use poached chicken torn into strips, or tofu, or nothing at all.

Oh, you want a recipe, that was it.  Ha. Ok, not really.  

Thai cucumber and shrimp salad

(served 4 as a light-ish lunch, and more as part of a meal)

2 large cucumbers (about 2 cups)

2/3 lbs shrimp, preferably shells on (optional, but remember to add more cucumber if you're not using any protein at all)

about 1/4 cup of roughly chopped Vietnamese Perilla (use more or less to taste)

about 1/4 cup cilantro leafs (ditto)

1 cup of shallots, cut into thin slices

1/4 cup of coconut flakes (desiccated coconut)

For the dressing

about 1/4 cup fish sauce

3 tablespoons lime juice

about 2 tablespoon rice vinegar

about 1 tablespoon of palm sugar (white sugar will do just fine, but start with only 1/2 tablespoon)

5-10 Thai bird-eye chilli, chopped (to taste)

In a small pot, add 1/2 cup of water and the shrimp. Place the pot with the lid on over high heat, bring it to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a full boil, turn the heat off and let the steam finishes the cooking for a couple more minutes.  Drain the water and let the shrimp rest until they are cool enough, then peel and devein them and set aside.

Peel, seed, and cut the cucumbers into thin slices.

Place a dry wok over low heat, add the coconut flakes and stir constantly until they are evenly brown.  Set aside.  Wipe the wok clean, add 1 1/2 cup of frying oil into it and place it over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the shallot slices and fry, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp.  Be careful not to over cook them.  Fish out the fried shallots from the pan ontp a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.  You can strain the oil and keep it for another use.  The perfumed oil will be perfect for a stir-fry, for example.

To make the dressing, first you nuke the palm sugar (in a bowl in the microwave) for 20-30 seconds just to melt it and make it easier to blend with the other ingredients.  Then add the fish sauce, stir to blend.  Add the lime juice, then the rice vinegar.  Taste it and see if you need more acidity, if so, add more rice vinegar to taste.  Add the chopped chilli.

In a salad bowl, add the shrimp and cucumber slices.  Reserve a bit of the fried shallots, coconut, and the herbs for garnish.  Dump the rest into the salad bowl.  Pour in about 2/3 of the dressing, toss well.  Taste it and see if you'd like a bit more dressing, then add more as needed.  Sprinkle the reserved shallots, coconut, and herbs and serve.  

A great trick for egg lovers


I love to serve this salad with a boiled egg on the side.  I boil the eggs just until the white is set but the egg is still somewhat gooey.  This is a bit tricky to do, as it depends on how hot your stove is and a lot of other factors, but generally what I do is this: I put 4 eggs, cold right from the fridge, into a 2-3qt. pot.  Fill it with enough water just to cover the eggs.  Put the pot on the stove over medium heat, lid off.  Set the timer to 11 minutes.  Just before the 11-minute mark, I fill a bowl with water and ice, to wait for the eggs. As soon as the timer rings, remove the eggs from the pot, put them into the ice water bath.  When the eggs are cooled enough, peel them gently under running water.

I cut each egg into halves and serve 1 egg per serving if it's for lunch, and just 1/2 if it's a part of a meal.

Before I eat, I use the fork to crush the egg, then stir to mix into the salad.  The partially cooked yolk basically dissolve into the dressing and slightly thickens it.  It's beyond perfect, to me at least. 

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62 Responses to “Thai cucumber salad (Yum Tang Gwa)

  • Love Apple Farm said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 11:49am

    Wow….so glad those plants turned out to be productive for you! I’ve got to come over and inspect how those other babies I gave you are doing!

  • meleyna said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 1:32pm

    I think perhaps the favorite thing about your posts is that it makes me feel just a smidge better about myself. You see, I’ve been doing this sort of uncooking all summer. It’s almost more than I can bear to stand at the stove for the few minutes it takes for a pot of soba to boil, and even then I can’t eat it warm. When I do cook, it’s a frenzied “OMG I need to blog let’s make four dishes in a row so I have something to post lest my small pool of readers diminishes into nothing!” Not that I’m not enjoying myself, but really? The heat? You know it’s serious when you’re rejoicing the “cooler weekend” of 104 degrees.
    Ahem, as I was saying. Thank you for sanctifying my laziness as real, honest to goodness cooking. The recipe proves it. 🙂

  • denise said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 3:22pm

    This looks sooooo good and I will try your egg trick too. Thank you!

  • Nutmeg Nanny said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 4:22pm

    This meal just screams summer. When I was growing up in Ohio we always planted a garden. It’s amazing how much better fruit and vegetables taste when you grow them yourself. Cucumbers were always my favorite to grow. Making pickles is the best:)

  • Dana McCauley said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 6:52pm

    Sounds yummy and spicy! Is there a substitute for perilla? I’m not sure I can find it around here.

  • Dana McCauley said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 6:54pm

    Opps, sorry, just noticed that you mention mint as an alternate. : )

  • katiek said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 9:54pm

    I am always trying to tackle the perfect egg. They say between 62 to 66 degrees Celsius is ideal for setting the white, but not the yolks- hamine egg style.
    And yes, I do love boiled eggs with salads – makes it into a meal.

  • luis garay aballay said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 10:59pm

    ohhhhhhhh………….. very good
    the recipe is delicius
    shrimp is good see food
    in chile have the best ocean food
    locos, machas, erizos, almejas, choritos, salmon and more…
    you visit chile in the future
    sorry for my inglish
    i speak only spanish
    one kiss
    add facebook plis
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    I love you blog, is wonderfull
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  • nat@cha said:
    August 11th, 2009 at 11:51pm

    fresh and delicious !
    mmmmm 😉

  • Michelle @ said:
    August 12th, 2009 at 1:14am

    This sounds AMAZING. I can’t wait to try it.
    If this isn’t “exactly Thai”, is there a classic cucumber salad that is? How does this differ?

  • Taylor Young said:
    August 12th, 2009 at 8:59am

    Absolutely gorgeous!
    Nothing like cooking with ingredients you grow yourself.
    Very nice!

  • Janina said:
    August 12th, 2009 at 1:14pm

    I just tried your recipe. As usual one or two ingredients where missing in my fridge so I had to be creative and substitute (which I love to do) but It still turned out wonderful! Thank you so much!

  • pixen said:
    August 12th, 2009 at 3:26pm

    The addition of the egg made this dish even tastier! Will have a try in this one as my kid loves egg 🙂 Btw, saw you, David Lebovitz, Cha Xiu Bao appeared in National Geographic’s Food Lover’s Guide To The Planet (Belgium Edition) 2 days ago 🙂 All the food bloggers appeared great!

  • Lee Yuen said:
    August 12th, 2009 at 10:00pm

    Oh, it’s true that freshly picked cues tastes better. I used to grow them and have never been satisfied with anything I have bought at stores since then. Don’t wait till they grow big. They are best eaten really small and tender for salads. Once they get beyond 1ocm long, I tended use them for cooking rather than eaten raw.

  • TheWoman said:
    August 13th, 2009 at 1:58am

    This looks so light & fresh!
    Just a question, what is Vietnamese Perilla? Can I substitute with something else?

  • said:
    August 13th, 2009 at 10:01am

    Sounds yummy. It’s a fantastic idea of that egg yolk, I could imagine how delicious it must be! I have similar use of egg when I have asian dried tossed noodles. I would also crush a softly poached or hard boiled egg (to the state you described where white is set but yolk is semi-done)so that the egg yolk could kind of coated the al dente noodles. It’s definitely good beyond description.

  • Dr Fred said:
    August 13th, 2009 at 12:31pm

    made it, it’s a winner! Thanks.

  • Kimberly Belle said:
    August 13th, 2009 at 11:14pm

    I started with just a precious herb garden – – growing, but the fruit of my labor is much more delectable than store-bought, for certain! If you have some more of your crisp, tender cucumber left, here is an idea out of my stockpile – – Cucumber Margaritas! Why not drink it while you eat it up! (I’ll be sure to try this Thai salad recipe, too, as everyone seems to sing its praises.)
    Kimberly Belle

  • june2 said:
    August 14th, 2009 at 4:04am

    Oh wow, after googling Vietnamese perilla I discovered that it’s the exact variety a neighbor just gave to me in a little pot! It’s a gorgeous plant and looks so beautiful next to my pink blossoms. And very tasty too. Now I’ll have to make this dish for her as a thank you : )
    Thanks so much!

  • Eating the World said:
    August 14th, 2009 at 9:36am

    I think I’m going to try making this dish with my overabundance of cilantro. Looks amazing.

  • Georgia said:
    August 14th, 2009 at 1:25pm

    Thanks for the egg trick.

  • Mary-Anne Durkee said:
    August 15th, 2009 at 10:21am

    Thai salads are always so wonderful! I am growing Suyo Japanese cucumbers this year-love them. Hello to Cynthia from the TomatoLady.

  • Jan Zbiciak Brummett said:
    August 15th, 2009 at 11:17am

    Cucumbers are perhaps my favorite thing to eat…particularly fresh picked. What a beautful way to serve and savor them!

  • RG said:
    August 16th, 2009 at 9:46am

    Thanks for a great idea! I bastardized it by using a fried egg (I cover it for a minute at the end to semi-set the yolk) on top of regular leaf-lettuce salad. I dressed the salad with kosher salt and balsamic vinegar, put the two eggs on top, cut up the eggs, eat. Twice in 24 hours, and I bet I could eat it again tonight.

  • Roz said:
    August 16th, 2009 at 12:12pm

    I love Thai cucumber salad so much and will make this delicious recipe! Thanks for sharing! Roz

  • cara said:
    August 18th, 2009 at 6:48am

    that recipe looks delicious. like exactly the kind of thing i’d eat all the time if i had my way. i sometimes make a similar cucumber salad, but i’m not so good at keeping it simple, and it often winds up being overwhelmed by some complicated meal…

  • Brian + Carla Black said:
    August 19th, 2009 at 5:34am

    cilantro,cucumbers and shrimp…great flavors for summer.We did a lemon pasta shrimp, among others this month. Shrimp just seems to call for the light flavors in citrus, and fresh herbs.

  • paula said:
    August 19th, 2009 at 7:35pm

    It seems so tasteful, I like so much this kind of dish, the fresch of cucumber and delicious shrimp, good mix.

  • Francisco Leal said:
    August 19th, 2009 at 10:25pm

    Hola Pim, te saludo desde Venezuela. Te acabo de ver por National Geographic Channel, No podrás traducir tu blog a español? respondeme correo..

  • VimbaiS said:
    August 21st, 2009 at 10:18am

    I have a friend who loves cucumbers, i think i am going to try making this dish for her with the cucumbers from my little Garden.
    Love your blogs!!

  • pity said:
    August 22nd, 2009 at 9:56am

    this recipe is my kind of food, simple, delicious and very good for you, loved it, well done!

  • Chas Underwood III said:
    August 22nd, 2009 at 4:11pm

    This is an amazing recipe! I am going shopping for dinner and am using this recipe tonight! The egg sounds spectacular…ok, I’m not that excited about the egg but it does sound good. approves this recipe!

  • Blomma said:
    August 23rd, 2009 at 4:02pm

    Ca a l’air délicieux, merci pour cette belle recette!

  • Forager said:
    August 25th, 2009 at 7:01pm

    Looks awesome, refreshing and perfect for warm weather. It sends me right back to Thailand. On summer holidays. On a beach. 🙂

  • ckrchmar said:
    August 25th, 2009 at 9:55pm

    wow, had a bite of my leftover cucumber salad at work today, I was immediately transformed back to a hot, sticky, beach in Koh Samui. Can it possibly be even better the next day? Thank you so much for this recipe Pim, it will be made again and again over the coming weeks.

  • Melinda said:
    August 26th, 2009 at 7:59pm

    That egg trick is pretty cool, and reminds me of my mom’s rice, soy and egg yolk meal, but I like that you don’t just serve it, you mash it and use the yolk to thicken the sauce. Yum.

  • Linh said:
    August 27th, 2009 at 7:46am

    I just discovered your blog, it brings me just the Thai flavor I was desperately looking for.
    Will be back often!

  • Diane said:
    August 30th, 2009 at 10:15am

    I’ve been on a Thai salad kick lately. I’ve been making Thai salads almost every day for the past week – winged bean (found some fresh last week!), lemongrass, cucumber, grilled eggplant, etc. So lovely and refreshing.
    I like the egg trick. Would it work the same for larger eggs like duck eggs?

  • Baguette said:
    September 1st, 2009 at 6:13am

    Its sounds amazing…can will try it 🙂

  • Floral Josephine said:
    September 1st, 2009 at 3:12pm

    It’s so beautiful. It tastes even better than it looks, every dish you have is even better than the last. The egg is also a lovely touch.

  • beta vrome said:
    September 4th, 2009 at 6:43pm

    Look at this, this make your meal complete! jammmie…looks great!

  • Emma said:
    September 9th, 2009 at 9:22am

    I tried it yesterday with my friend and stepson : great succes !!! Thank you for the recipe, no I can master the seasonning and adapt to other things than shrimps… great great

  • BigGirlPhoebz said:
    September 10th, 2009 at 2:53pm

    I was just cruising the web looking for a great Thai beef salad to make, but this looks so refreshing and wonderful I may have to make this shrimp version instead!
    Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

  • pekiki said:
    September 17th, 2009 at 8:10pm

    It’s not look a like Yum Tang Gwa that I used to naka, but it look Yummy…Yummy… Ka, Oh! what’s a big… big… white healthy shrimp and lovely Thai style boiled egg. As you said It’s not exactly Thai but no matter it’s yours naka, happy to share.

  • Ian said:
    September 29th, 2009 at 2:42am

    I love the Blog and all of your interesting articles.

  • sharon said:
    October 7th, 2009 at 8:50am

    That was so delicious….thanks for sharing

  • J2Kfm said:
    October 25th, 2009 at 1:03am

    i figure tuna would also be a good alternative, is it not?
    tangy, and spicy, Thai style of salad is my preferred choice when it comes to eating healthy.
    rather than those mayo-laden ones.

  • hannah pemberton said:
    November 27th, 2009 at 7:33am

    Im a die hard thai salad fan and this look delicious….I reckon the addition of fine thai rice noodles would really work for the noodle addicts among us!

  • tiffanyfree said:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 12:13am

    I think that these mushrooms would be a great addition to my mushroom collection.

  • Rachel Malkowski said:
    January 28th, 2010 at 9:14am

    I was able, surprisingly, to find Vietnamese Perilla at a local Asian market, but what are Thai bird-eye chili? None of the employees were able to help me, and I ended up substituting some chopped dried red chili but too much heat! I’ll add less next time.
    Also, now that I am stocked on the perilla, do you have tips on any other dishes I could toss it into? It has quite a strong flavor. Thanks, great healthy recipe!

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    February 4th, 2010 at 11:12pm

    Mangosteen is my favorite childhood fruit. Can’t find any fresh ones when I moved to US. Can’t wait to let my toddler taste the Pear Mangosteen cottage cheese.

  • thai food restaurants in capitola santa cruz said:
    February 26th, 2010 at 2:40pm

    for sure to try this one

  • Tebonin said:
    April 21st, 2010 at 6:10pm

    Can’t wait try this one out.
    Like this kind of Thai food..but I may need to Market in the morning for the fresh seafood.

  • amitkumar said:
    April 27th, 2010 at 1:19am

    Amazing writeup on healthy foods like this. I am definitely going to try out this dish in the weekend and include this amazing menu in my blog too.
    Keep up with the good menus 🙂

  • Yeppon Lawyers said:
    May 6th, 2010 at 9:30pm

    Such amazing recipe really good. So fresh and tasty. I wanna give it try.

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    It is a delicious snack, rich in vitamins, low in calories and low in salt. The only requirement is to eat that is mature, and be careful not to mix with certain drugs.

  • free PR site said:
    June 7th, 2010 at 4:14am

    This is a very interesting combination but I love Thai food and I believe it’s very tasty. And the way it looks, mmm.

  • Chris said:
    July 8th, 2010 at 7:33am

    I love to eat Thai food and this salad seems to be very tasty – I wanna try it, but with less chilies 🙂
    Lots of chicken salad recipes at

  • Julie said:
    July 31st, 2010 at 10:33am

    I’ve got to try this!

  • Tina said:
    January 21st, 2011 at 12:45pm

    This looks delicious. When it comes to shrimps I always cook it with a soup and this is pretty amazing… Salad is my favorite but I never tried on with a shrimps. Well I used to order in the restaurant but very expensive. Maybe making one will give me great savings.

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