If you’re familiar with Chinese cuisine, you probably already know and love smashed cucumber salad, which in its simplest form features just minced garlic, salt, and some sort of vinegar. That’s the core of my family’s salad too. But to get me to eat vegetables as a kid, my mom would add sliced tomato with sugar sprinkled on top. And for protein, fluffy scrambled eggs. It’s kind of like if the homey Chinese tomato and egg stir-fry and the smashed cucumber salad got smooshed together. Top it all with a little sesame oil, and you have a total knockout.
Almost every element of this salad has a swap option. I use any type of cucumber, depending on what’s around. Sometimes I add cherry tomatoes instead of a larger one. I usually reach for black vinegar, but I’ve also used an Acid League Meyer lemon and honey vinegar. A dash of nutty chili oil at the end never hurt anyone. And if I’m particularly hungry, I throw in fusilli and turn it into a pasta salad. Over the years, my mom has developed her own swaps. She now uses balsamic vinegar and cuts the sugar, and she might use a sesame paste instead of sesame oil to make it richer and creamier.
That said, there are some non-negotiables. A little raw garlic, soaked with the vinegary cucumbers, adds a critical zing. Salt, obviously, is required, as is sugar to get that sweet-and-sour effect. Most of all, the scrambled egg is not any scrambled egg: It is scrambled over high heat in very hot oil.
This technique is all about speed: Once the eggs have landed in the oil, they’ll instantly puff up like a cloud. After a few seconds, push them around in the pan until the eggs curl into misshapen nuggets—sunny yellow in some spots and golden brown in others. Those crispy edges are the best part.
Toss the hot eggs with the vinegary, garlicky cucumber and tomato, and let everything soak in the juices. Adjust for taste, of course. I’ve added more sugar to accommodate out-of-season tomatoes, I’ve upped the vinegar if I’m eating the salad as a side to something creamy, and I’ve upped the ratio of cucumber when I’m low on other ingredients.
Don’t worry too much about precision—my family riffs on this constantly and there are similar-but-different versions across other culinary traditions. I give you permission to make it your own.
My family’s cucumber, tomato, and egg salad:
Cut 1 English hothouse cucumber in half crosswise. Wrap up one half and refrigerate for another day. Using the flat side of a knife, smash the other cucumber half until it’s cracked all over. Now chop it into bite-size pieces and toss these in a medium bowl.
Mince 1 garlic clove and add this to the cucumber, along with a big, honking pinch of kosher salt; toss to coat. Roughly chop 1 medium tomato (or use a handful of halved cherry tomatoes) and add it to the cucumber. Top with a big spoonful of granulated sugar and toss. Pour in a heavy splash of black vinegar and toss again, adding more if the salad looks dry. Let it sit for 10–30 minutes.
With chopsticks or a fork, whisk 3 eggs with a pinch of salt in a small bowl until smooth. Set a nonstick pan over medium-high heat and add a thick layer of vegetable oil to coat the bottom. Once it’s glimmering and almost smoking, add a drip of egg. If it instantly poofs, the oil’s ready. Pour in the eggs. After the edges have puffed and started to brown (this should happen in seconds), push the eggs around, breaking them into craggy pieces. Turn off the heat.
Scrape the scrambled eggs into the bowl with the cucumber and tomato. Drizzle with untoasted or toasted sesame oil and gently mix to coat. Taste and add more salt (or a splash of soy sauce), more vinegar, or more sugar as needed. It should be juicy, tart, and sweet. Transfer to a shallow bowl, where the juices can pool, or eat straight from the bowl like I do.
This serves one or two people, but easily doubles if you’re feeding more.