Refreshing Cucumber Soup

In the West, cucumber is most often eaten raw or in salads. In Chinese cuisine, however, cucumbers enjoy higher status. Chinese chefs strive to maintain the cool crispness and varied green colours of this prosaic food. We love to eat it stir-fried, braised, pickled and even stuffed.

When cucumber is used in soup, as in this recipe, it keeps its refreshing cool crunch, which makes a nice contrast to the hot soup. The versatility of the wok is such that it can be used even to make this soup. Once the stock is made, the rest is quickly assembled and on the table in a matter of minutes. It is a sparkling starter for any meal and quite economical as well. The beef in this version of the soup adds richness. If you prefer a delicious vegetarian alternative, however, simply omit the beef and use vegetable stock.


  • 450 g (1 lb) cucumbers
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 100 g (4 oz) lean minced beef
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1.2 litres (2 pints) Chicken Stock or Vegetable Stock
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 whole spring onion, finely shredded
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil


Cut the unpeeled cucumbers into 2.5-cm (1-in) slices, sprinkle with salt and put them into a colander to drain for 20 minutes. Squeeze the cucumber slices in a linen tea towel to remove any excess moisture and liquid. Blot them dry with kitchen paper.

Combine the beef with the soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry, sesame oil, cornflour and black pepper.

Heat the stock in a wok, add the beef and stir to break up any lumps. Simmer for 3 minutes. Then stir in the soy sauce, spring onion, sugar and sesame oil. Turn off the heat and stir in the cucumber slices and allow them to sit in the hot stock for 2 minutes.

Ladle into a large soup tureen and serve immediately.