This is the kind of half-improvised dish that reminds me of my mom’s cooking when I’m far away from home. It’s what San Francisco Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho called “assimilation food”—recipes that are recreated based on memory using nontraditional ingredients.
This recipe is a mishmash of Korean spicy cucumbers (oimuchim) and Korean spicy cold noodles (bibim guksu). Instead of traditional Korean ingredients, like gochujang or gochugaru to add spice and heat, I use chili crisp, a Chinese condiment, and I reach for any type of noodle I have in the pantry.
I make these summery noodles when short on time or hungry for something spicy and cool. Salt and rest the cucumbers first. They’ll be ready by the time you cook the noodles and make the dressing.
What’s Chili Crisp?
Chili crisp, also referred to as chili oil, is a condiment you should be putting on literally everything. It’s oil infused with chili flakes and different kinds of aromatics. I guarantee there is always an open jar of chili crisp on my fridge door and a back-up in the pantry.
Here are some of my favorite brands and the reasons why I love each:
- Lao Gan Ma’s Spicy Chili Crisp: This is a classic brand most often carried by big box stores. My local Kroger and Harris Teeter carry it. It’s a little spicy without being too assertive. I prefer the one with peanuts—check the label—for the extra crunch.
- Trader Joe’s Chili Onion Crunch: This comes in at a one on a scale of zero-to-ten for spiciness. What I love is how oniony it tastes.
- Fly by Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp: If I had to pick one chili crisp I’d buy again and again, it’s this one. I love the tingly, but not mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, and the small bits of fermented black beans are bursts of bold flavors.
- Boon Sauce: At first, I wasn’t sure about this chili crisp with anchovies and fennel. It’s assertive, but also turns out to be singularly addictive.
Persian Cucumbers Are Best
Persian cucumbers have a clean, neutral flavor that gets along with nearly any ingredient, like soy sauce and sesame oil, creamy yogurt, tahini, and the spicy chili crisp in this recipe. You slice and salt the cucumbers to draw out moisture and intensify the cucumber flavor. Have them sit in a colander to drain for about 15 minutes and you’ll be left with lightly seasoned and super crunchy cucumbers.
I love Persian cucumbers best because the skin is thin, the crunch is perfect, and the flavor is mild. Any variety of burpless cucumbers, like English, Armenian, Japanese, or Korean cucumbers are okay to use. I would avoid thick-skinned cucumbers that are used for pickling.
Use Any Noodles
And I mean it. There isn’t a noodle that wouldn’t work. Udon, soba, ramen, mei fun, rice, and somen noodles are typically what I have around and use. The noodles are the starchy vehicle for the chili crisp to cling onto, so even spaghetti, angel hair, or fettucine would be delicious.
Noodles for Days
Noodles with Cucumbers and A Lot of Chili Crisp
Need to feed more than three? Double or triple the ingredients. Leftovers stay wonderful in the fridge for up to 2 days and can be served cold.
- 4 Persian cucumbers (about 12 ounces total), cut into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 ounces dry ramen, rice, or soba noodles
- 3 tablespoons chili crisp, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
Salt the cucumbers:
Place the cucumbers in a colander set over a large bowl or in the sink, and sprinkle in the salt. Toss to combine and let sit for at least 15 minutes. The salt will draw out moisture from the cucumbers.
You can make this recipe in about 15 minutes if you rest the cucumbers during the time it takes to cook the noodles and make the dressing.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles:
Set a medium pot with water over high heat. Once it comes up to a boil, cook the noodles until al dente following package instructions. Drain them into a colander placed in the sink and rinse with cold running water until cool to the touch. Leave them in the sink to drain well.
Dress the cucumbers:
Tap the colander with the cucumbers inside the sink to drain as much liquid as possible. Discard the drained water in the bowl, if you used one, and rinse it out. Transfer the cucumbers to the bowl.
Add the chili crisp, sesame oil, sesame seeds, sugar, and garlic. Toss well to evenly coat the cucumbers with the dressing.
Toss in the noodles:
Add the drained noodles and toss to combine. Taste and add more chili crisp, sesame oil, or sugar, if you’d like. Enjoy! These noodles are delicious served at room temperature or cold.
Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days. The cucumbers will release more water as they sit and that’s okay. Toss the noodles to reincorporate the dressing before serving.
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