cucumber kimchi

Vegetables for kimchi

Some days, I wake up with a food stuck in my head. It’s similar to waking up with a song stuck in your head, but I have yet to successfully switch one stuck-in-my-head food for another. Sometimes it’ll go away on its own, but there’s no guarantee. It happened to me early last week when I made that Shaker Lemon pie. As soon as I finished slicing the lemons, I wanted to start the next one. And then eat one.

The nice thing about this little problem is that it’s really not a problem at all. When we were in Vancouver with my parents last weekend, I saw this recipe for bulgogi sloppy joes with cucumber kimchi. (Also, ‘scallion salsa,’ but I do not care about that). I could pretty much take or leave the whole ‘sloppy joes’ concept, but it planted the seed of desire for cucumber kimchi in my mind. I love me the hell out of some banchan. For real. So all week I walked around with that little voice in the back of my head, and finally I caved. I cannot fight a fermented food!

The other wonderful thing about kimchi is this: it’s easy. I made this little batch of cucumbers while brining cabbage and radishes. (The first wonderful thing about kimchi is that it’s magical fermented garlic-ginger-pepper goodness. Obviously.)

To make it:

Wash some little pickling-type cucumbers (unwaxed), slice off one end, then quarter them longways, without cutting all the way through the base. You want the spears to still be attached at one end. Soak them in a saltwater brine for about half an hour (put a weight on them so they stay submerged.)

Meanwhile, make up your filling:
spices for cucumber kimchi

That’s one giant scallion, a couple tablespoons sugar, some fish sauce (you can omit it if you’re squeamish, but it’s good, I promise), a couple big cloves of garlic, and an obscene amount of korean chili powder. Not pictured: ginger, which I decided at the last minute was necessary. Mix those things all up into a paste, then go fish your cucumbers out of their brine.

Now, this is important: go get some gloves. I promise you will thank me, especially when you get brave and make cabbage kimchi. That chili powder? It’s for real. Not only is it authentically, seriously, crying-in-the-bathroom hot, but it also stains. Unless you want to look like you’ve been doing some seriously dirty work and crying about it, go to the drug store, buy some gloves, keep them in your kitchen, I swear you will not regret it. I’m not afraid to touch my food, but I do not enjoy the sensation of my hands being on fire, and I have made the mistake of forgetting to wash them thoroughly after cooking with peppers. And then I took out my contact lenses. Don’t be like me, kids.

cucumber kimchi in progress

PUT ON YOUR GLOVES! And cram that chili-scallion-fish sauce mix between the spears of your cucumbers, then squish them into a glass jar. Really, really squish them. The first couple are going to fit just fine, and then they’re going to get stubborn, but the brining will have softened the fruit a little bit, and you really don’t want airspace in there. Plus, you’re going to all this trouble to make some pickles, get the most out of it. I used a pint mason, and got three cucumbers in there whole, then split one more up and used it to fill in the gaps.

I didn’t really have much spice mix left over after I was done cramming cukes into my jar, but what little I had, I scooped up and plopped on top. It’s the good stuff! The recipe I used called for using a little water to capture the rest of it from the bowl, then adding that water the the pickles in the jar, but I didn’t find that any additional water was necessary for me.

Ta da!

jars of kimchi

As you can see, the cucumbers have some friends. At this point, you can put a lid on them and put them in the fridge, and eat at your will. I’m giving mine a day to ferment, because I like my pickles, well, pickled.

I used this recipe as my starting point. I cut it in half, and added ginger to the spice mix. I also suspect that the amount of chili might be too much even for us, so I encourage you to use a smaller amount of chili to suit your own taste. And the Korean chili powder isn’t strictly necessary – you can use cayenne or red pepper flakes in its place, if that’s what you have in your cabinet. Kimchi is flexible, and pretty forgiving. It’s a staple food, and like all staples, there’s plenty of room for variation and personalization.