Nanny’s Hungarian Cucumber Salad (Uborkasaláta)

by Martha Madrigal, writer, podcast host and plant-based home cook


  • 2 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin. (I use a mandolin)
  • 1 large onion, quartered and sliced thin (the mandolin is perfect here, too) 
  • 1 or 2 cloves minced garlic or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (optional) 
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper 
  • 2 Tbs. sugar (organic sugar if you’re vegan) 

All summer long growing up, we had delicious, refreshing cucumber salad in the refrigerator. My grandmother, whom we called “Nanny,” didn’t make her brine every time; she’d just add fresh onions and cucumbers and keep the bowl going. 

Her recipes were always scalable to the ingredients on hand and the number of mouths being fed. She mixed ingredients until the combination “looked right” and her dishes always tasted the same when she was through. Eventually, I learned those scaling and substituting skills myself.

Nanny died when I was 13. In the decades that followed I made many versions of cucumber salad from my collection of Hungarian cookbooks, none of which turned out quite right.  

Then, in the late 1990s I attended a dinner party, and on the table was a bowl of the familiar salad. I tasted it and it took me right back in time; that is the recipe I share with you. The process is different from my memories, but the result is spot on. 

This recipe is easily scalable, and can be a base for many add-in options, including fresh wedges of garden tomato, feta or goat cheese, or even fresh herbs from the garden. But I invite you to taste it as-is once your first batch is fully chilled. 


  • Peel and slice the cucumbers thin — 1/8” or thinner — and layer them in a bowl with the onion, also sliced thin. 
  • Add the remaining ingredients to a small saucepan and bring just to a boil; pour the hot brine over the cucumbers and onions, and cover and refrigerate to chill completely. 
  • If I’m adding other vegetables, cheese or fresh herbs, I do so once the salad is fully chilled, just before serving. 

Martha Madrigal is the cohost of  “Full Circle (the Podcast) with Charles Tyson Jr. and Martha Madrigal.” She cooks in the same South Jersey kitchen where she learned beside her grandmother as a child.