Essential Recipe: Chopped Cucumber and Tomato Salad

A chopped cucumber and tomato salad is no new concept. It’s one of those ubiquitous, cheerful salads that can be found all across the Mediterranean and middle East (Iran, Palestine, Turkey, etc). You’ll also see variations on the theme, such as Italian panzanella, which doesn’t always include cucumbers but often does. And, keep in mind that cucumbers originated in South Asia, while tomatoes originated in South America. These two juicy friends have done a lot of global travelling.

This simple combination is an excellent side for any number of main dishes.

The crunchy, juicy textures and lively fresh flavors are the perfect counterpoint to hearty grilled mains, but this cucumber and tomato salad is at home almost anywhere.

To get your creative gears turning... How to serve your chopped cucumber and tomato salad:

  • Stuff spoonfuls of salad into pita along with falafel or other crispy bean fritter and feta cheese.
  • Serve with savory sumac mushrooms, either spooned over the mushrooms with a dollop of yogurt or on the side as a traditional salad.
  • Dice everything extra-fine and scoop up with crackers, pita chips, or tortilla chips instead of salsa.
  • Serve as side to pureed soups and bisques, like butternut squash bisque, to balance the richness and add a textural element to the meal.
    • Also good as a garnish on top of the soup before serving, along with an extra drizzle of olive oil!
  • Mix in a bowl with cooked and cooled orzo for a quick and easy pasta salad. Great for picnics!
  • Include this salad as part of a brunch spread– think poached eggs, crusty bread, smoked salmon, and a dollop of yogurt or crème fraîche! Don’t forget the chives and/or fresh dill!

Notes for Success:

Letting the onion lightly pickle in either vinegar or citrus juice is the best way to take that harsh edge off the raw onion flavor. Rinsing or soaking in ice water just isn’t as effective, nor is salting and rinsing. If you like that big peppery onion bite, feel free to skip the quick pickle and just build the salad right away.
You can add any number of herbs to this salad, to slightly change its character. Soft herbs, like cilantro, dill, mint, and basil, should be added as close to serving as possible. This will prevent them from wilting too much. Parsley is sturdier and can sit a bit longer, but it’s still best to wait until ready to eat.
Also regarding herbs, feel free to play around with texture. Mincing vs chopping vs leaving sprigs whole will change their effect on the salad considerably. Try leaving herbs in larger sprigs if serving as a side salad– the texture will be more like leafy greens. On the other hand, you may want to finely chop your herbs if the salad will be a filling for flatbread. A fine chop distributes the flavors better, so you’ll get some in every bite.

Essential Recipe: Chopped Cucumber and Tomato Salad

The perfect bright accompaniment to deeply savory dishes, especially if they came from the grill or the fryer. Easy to whip up, and easy to customize based on accompanying dishes (or your mood!).
TOTAL TIME 20 mins


  • ½ medium red onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (Smaller is okay!)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice (See Notes)
  • 1 English cucumber, cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice (OR 4 Persian cucumbers)
  • 2 cups tomatoes, cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice (OR 2 cups quartered grape/cherry tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoons sugar (Optional)
  • ¼ cup soft herbs, such as dill, parsley, cilantro, mint or tarragon (Optional)


  • Step 1
    In a medium bowl, stir together the onion and vinegar. Let sit until the raw onion bite is slightly mellowed, at least 10 minutes.
  • Step 2
    Mix in the cucumber, tomato, and salt. Taste and adjust salt to your liking. (Out of season veggies generally need more salt than peak season veggies.)
  • Optional:
    For a hint of sweetness, which will bring out the flavor of the tomato, add a bit of sugar (start with ¼ teaspoon). This is especially helpful when using out-of-season tomatoes.
    If using herbs, fold into the salad just before serving.

Extra Notes:

Vinegar vs Citrus:
Choose your acid based on what the salad will be served with, and based on personal taste. Overall it's hard to go wrong with either, but sometimes the fruitiness of lemon might feel out of place, or the nutty depth of sherry vinegar might feel too heavy. Trust your judgement.
Choosing Cucumbers:
English cucumbers and smaller Persian cucumbers have thinner skins and smaller seeds. You may choose to de-seed or peel them, but it's not necessary. Basic hothouse cucumbers, however, have very thick skins and tough, large seeds. If you don't mind those textures, by all means leave the skin and seeds in tact. However, most people I've met prefer to peel and de-seed.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Isabella

    5 stars
    I really liked this. It was to be served alongside a Moroccan-inspired entree that had citrus in it so I used the lemon juice acid option, and because I really don’t love red onions I added the optional sugar. Usually I swap out red onions with green because they can be so harsh, but I forgot this time and was amazed that the light pickling truly did mellow them. I’d also never used English cucumber because they look like they’ve been tortured, but I did this time, and will do it again. To my surprise, this salad was still good the next day!

    1. Julia @ Small Pantry

      So glad you enjoyed it! I love the milder onion flavor of scallions, too, but I’m thrilled that you liked the quick pickling of the red onion. Thank you for stopping by!

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