This light and refreshing Kani Salad, or crab stick salad, is a Japanese-style appetizer made with julienned cucumber, crab sticks, and a tangy mayonnaise-based dressing.
What’s the best side dish for sushi? It’s Kani Salad, of course! This light, refreshing, and creamy Japanese-style salad is easy to make and gives a classic leafy green salad a run for its money.
Kani salad, or crab stick salad, is a 15-minute appetizer or side dish made with thinly sliced cucumber and imitation crab dressed in a sriracha mayonnaise dressing.
The layers of complex and vibrant flavors are well-balanced; you’ll find tang, spice, and cooling cucumber in every bite. It will remind you of a cold cucumber salad but with extra seafood and plenty of Japanese influence!
🦀 What is kani salad?
Kani salad is a light Japanese-style salad made with thinly sliced (or julienned) imitation crab and vegetables, like cucumber, carrots, and sometimes mango. To finish, the crab and veggies/fruits are tossed in a creamy and spicy mayonnaise dressing and garnished with panko bread crumbs, sesame seeds, and other toppings.
It’s a popular menu item at Japanese restaurants and steakhouses, but easy and budget-friendly to make from scratch.
🛒 Ingredients needed
- Cucumber – Julienned into fine slices. Feel free to slice the cucumber in half and scrape out the seeds ahead of time for even, crisp slices.
- Imitation crab sticks – Despite its name, look, and flavor, imitation crab (kanikama) isn’t made with real crab! It’s made with a fish paste called, “surimi”. The paste is colored and molded into crab sticks, flakes, or chunks. Crab sticks are best for this recipe because they’re easy to julienne. To learn more about kanikama, check out this guide by Izzy Cooking.
- Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise – This Japanese mayo is much richer than the brands in most North American grocery stores because it’s made with egg yolks rather than the whole egg. Its popularity has grown exponentially over the past few years, making it easy to find in well-stocked grocery stores and at Asian markets. But if you can’t find Kewpie, make the dressing regular mayo instead.
- Rice wine vinegar – Or you can use apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or white wine vinegar as a substitute.
- Sugar – To help balance the spice and acidity in the kani dressing.
- Soy sauce
📋 How to make a kani salad
Whisk the crab salad dressing together in a large salad bowl. Add the shredded imitation crab and cucumber to the bowl, then toss to combine.
Divide the salad into individual bowls and garnish with the toppings of your choice. Enjoy!
🥣 Crab salad toppings
Almost all crab stick salad recipes are finished with toppings and garnishes. The popular choices are breadcrumbs and sesame seeds for crunch and avocado for extra creaminess.
Additional toppings not only add more dimension, texture, and flavor to every bite, but they also give this Japanese-inspired side dish an eye-catching presentation. Feel free to use the toppings of your choice or stick with my suggestions:
- Avocado slices
- Sliced mango
- Black sesame seeds
- White sesame seeds
- Panko bread crumbs
- Green onion
- Tobiko (flying fish roe)
ℹ️ Frequently asked questions
Nope! Imitation crab is pre-cooked, meaning it doesn’t need to be cooked before being sliced and tossed with the salad dressing.
Feel free to add more fresh vegetables or fruit, like julienned carrots, mango slices, apple slices, or shredded cabbage. You can even add noodles to help bulk up each serving.
It depends on how much hot sauce you use in the dressing. The heat from the sriracha is important because it adds complexity next to the light and refreshing vegetables and rich mayonnaise. You can, however, easily adjust the heat level by using less or more sriracha.
No, kani salad is not gluten free because the imitation crab uses wheat as a filler. For a gluten free and vegetarian alternative, omit the crab sticks and use the fresh fruits or vegetables I suggested above in their place. Also, use gluten free tamari as a substitute for soy sauce.
🥢 Serving suggestions
I love that it takes almost no time to put a quick and easy kani salad together, making it a great last-minute appetizer or side dish! Pair it with all of your favorite Japanese-inspired, Asian-inspired, or copycat takeout recipes, like:
- Shrimp Sushi Bowls
- Salmon Sushi Bowls
- Hamachi Crudo
- Tan Tan Ramen
- Miso Pasta
- Crispy Rice Sushi Bites
- Cauliflower Fried Rice
- Thai Noodle Soup
- Easy Mongolian Chicken
You can also enjoy this recipe for a light and healthy lunch. Top it on a bed of greens or bulk up the salad as-is with soba or rice noodles and extra seafood on top, like boiled shrimp or leftover baked salmon.
🕕 Make ahead and storing
Kani salad can be made up to 3 days ahead of serving. Keep it in a sealed container in the fridge and don’t add any toppings or garnishes until right before plating.
Want to save even more time? Whisk the dressing together and keep it in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to 1 week.
🥡 More Asian-inspired salad recipes
- Din Tai Fung Cucumber Salad
- Cold Peanut Noodle Salad
- Thai Shrimp Salad
- Asian Cucumber Salad
- Vietnamese Noodle Salad
- Thai Mushroom Salad
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Have leftover imitation crab? Check out these 37+ tasty imitation crab recipes.
Kani Salad Recipe
- ½ medium cucumber (julienned or thinly sliced)
- 1 pound kani imitation crab sticks
- Using a fork or your fingers, shred the crab into thin strings lengthwise.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients.
- Add the cucumber and crab and toss to combine.
- Divide the mixture into bowls and top with avocado, sesame seeds, panko and green onion.