Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cucumber Kimchi (oi kimchi/오이 김치)

I love oi kimchi, a.k.a. cucumber kimchi in the summer time. It's really crisp and refreshing. However, though it isn't time consuming to actually make it, you do have to wait for the cucumbers to pickle before you can indulge. The other night, I was craving oi kimchi and I wanted them instantly so I put this together. Admittedly though, the taste isn't a perfect match for the real deal, but it's a great shortcut for impatient people like me.

Ingredients:
2 kirby cucumbers *
1/4 cup salt - I like coarse kosher salt for pickling recipes
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon Korean fish sauce **
1 tablespoon sugar
1 scallion
slice of red onion

* Why kirby cucumbers? Because they make the best pickles.
** Pretty much every Asian country makes its own version of fish sauce. Korean fish sauce is anchovy based, super salty - much saltier than Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce - and is used in making kimchi.
Here's what my fish sauce looks like:

Start by cutting up the cucumber. Usually, oi kimchi is made by keeping the cucumbers whole, with a cross cut that doesn't go all the way through the kimchi, just to help flavors penetrate. However, we do not have time for that! So I slice the cucumber into roughly 1/2" pieces.
Place the cucumbers in a bowl and cover with salt. 1/4 cup of salt is going to seem like a lot for the amount of cucumbers but we're trying to accelerate the pickling process and get the cucumbers to give off a lot of liquid so this is necessary. Toss around and you'll immediately see a sheen on the cucumbers and a bunch of juice collecting in the bottom of the container. Let the cucumbers sit for 10 to 20 minutes. You can test if they're ready to be rinsed by picking up a cucumber and trying to bend it. Normally, you can pretty easily snap a cucumber because it's so crisp but when the water is drawn out, it gets more malleable. You'll still be able to snap it but it'll take a lot more pressure. I rinse the cucumbers 3 times; the amount of salt used is pretty overwhelming. After the third rinse, I give one of the cucumbers a taste to make sure it's still salty but not too salty and then make a decision whether or not they need more rinsing.
During the 10 to 20 minute salt soak, you can spend that time prepping the garlic, scallions, and onions. I mince the garlic, chop the scallions, and roughly chop the onion. I just like using red onion because it's a bit milder - it's a great salad onion - but if all you have is white or yellow onions, use that. And if you prefer smaller piece of onion, go smaller. I just like the rough chop because sometimes I want to pick up an onion and eat it, and other times, I like when there's a small piece of onion stuck to the piece of cucumber I'm eating. It's all about preference.
Now that all of the ingredients are ready, it's time to combine them. Add the garlic, scallions, sugar, hot pepper flakes, and fish sauce and give it a quick toss. Then wait about 5 minutes, and as the cucumbers give off more juice, a nice red sauce will form. The hot pepper flakes and cucumber juice will almost form a paste. Just before serving, add the onions and stir.
And that's it. Crisp, fresh, delicious, "instant" oi kimchi. They'll continue giving off juice and actually get even better after a few days.

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