Friday, August 29, 2008

Cucumber Kimchi

While talking to Erland and Rieko at New Hope farm stand, I learned that Erland used to make and sell Kimchi in New York. He told me that he interviewed many old Korean ladies for a Kimchi recipe and they all told him different ones. I wholeheartedly agree that a Kimchi recipe isn't easy to obtain. There are probably millions of variations in making Kimchi. Even my mom couldn't tell me a "recipe" per se. The thing is that she doesn't really measure anything. She just knows how much to throw in and what to look for, from making Kimchi thousand times. And yes, Kimchi-making is an art.

Erland gave me 4 nice looking cucumbers and asked if I could make and bring some Oee Kimchi (오이 김치, Cucumber Kimchi) for him. It's been a while since I made Kimchi last time, but cucumber Kimchi is relatively easy, and I had garlic chives going wild in my garden, so I took the offer.

Cutting and salting the cucumbers
First, cut cucumbers 1.5 - 1.75 inches long log. Then you cut them lengthwise twice in a criss-cross pattern close to the bottom of the log, leaving about 1/8 - 1/4" inches of the bottom uncut. This style of cucumber Kimchi is called oee sobakee (오이 소박이) and takes more time and effort to make, but looks nicer. If you don't want to bother, just cut the log all the way into quarters so that you have wedge-looking cucumber pieces.
For four of ~11 inch long cucumbers, I used 1/4 cup of coarse sea salt and 1/2 cup of water and mixed them in a bowl. Let them rest for about 1 ~ 1.5 hour, till cucumber pieces are nicely salted and bendable. You might think that is a lot of salt, but once the cucumber pieces are salted, you throughly rinse them in cold water and drain.

Ingredients in the top row from the left:
  • cucumber pieces salted, rinsed, and drained.
  • sugar
  • salted shrimp: these are tiny tiny shrimps that are preserved in salt.
  • anchovy fish sauce: I am using a Korean brand fish sauce, but I was told Thai or Vietnamese brand works well too.
  • salt, which I didn't use other than salting the cucumbers.
  • cayenne pepper flakes: very important. If you are buying a bag of dried cayenne pepper from Asian grocery stores, make sure it is made within a year and has nice deep red color. It can be mild hot to very hot, but since you cannot taste it before you buy, and it would be more of a trial and error. I use one that my mom sends me and it has nice heat to it.
Ingredients on the cutting board
  • garlic chives: related to chives, but have flat leaves and a nice garlicky flavor. Essential ingredient in making oee sobakee.
  • scallions, garlic, ginger: three ingredients that show in almost all Korean recipes.
chopping and mixing the ingredients
  • garlic chives: cut into 0.75 inches. 1 cup.
  • scallions: chop them small. 1/2 cup.
  • ginger: very finely minced. 1/2 Tbsp.
  • garlic: very finely minced. 1 1/2 Tbsp.
  • cayenne pepper flakes: 5 Tbsp
  • sugar: 1 Tbsp
  • salted shrimp: 1 Tbsp
  • anchovy fish sauce: 1 Tbsp

Mix all up and now you are almost ready

Take the cucumber pieces and gently stuff into the filling you made. The filling is pretty hot and salty and thus you don't need much.

Unlike cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi doesn't last long. As it ferments, cucumber pieces become mushy and acidic too quickly. Keep it refrigerated and eat within a few days of making. This one is hot, spicy and cool at the same time. Definitely worth the effort.

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