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Monday, September 24, 2012

In A Pickle?

There's nothing quite like the funky fermented flavors of Korean kimchi.  With pungent, salty, sweet, sour, fishy, and spicy undertones, gimchi, kimchee, or kim chee, is Korea's national dish.  Although the most common type of kimchi is cabbage based, depending on the season or region of Korea, there are hundreds of varieties of the traditional fermented dish.

While I've made kimchi a few times (with hit and miss success), I typically buy it in glass jars from the supermarket.  After tossing it into soups/stews, draping it over sticky rice, or eating it straight from the jar, I drink the leftover stuff. Trust me, drinking leftover kimchi crud isn't glamorous, but it's damn tasty.

Lately, I been intrigued with the notion of a very common spring and summer kimchi variation made with cucumbers.  Cucumber kimchi (Oi Sobaegi) is made with fresh thin-skinned cucumbers that are available during the market season. It's a quick kimchi that can be eaten right away or left to slightly ferment over a couple of days. It's fast, fun, fresh, and fantastic.

It's pickling season. While most of my friends might attest to the fact that I will pickle just about anything,  I stopped  putting up pickles a couple of years ago after I grew, picked, pickled, canned, and gave away 4 cases of jalapeno-spiked dill pickles during the holidays. No  jars. No canning. Nowadays, I use my over-sized blue enamel canning pot for crab boils and inland clam bakes. Although I'm out of the canning business,  I'm always game for batches of  quick pickles. Korean cucumber kimchi. Quick pickles with funky attitude.

Inspired by the abundance of cucumbers at our farmers' market, I hit the ground running. With most of the essential ingredients on hand, I simply had to make a quick trip to YuYu Asian market for a gigantic bag of gochugaru, fine Korean red chili powder.

Game on.

There are countless methods and procedures for throwing together a proper cucumber kimchi. Because they're all quite similar, I played around with the various methods and ingredients.

Traditionally, cucumbers are stuffed with the red pepper concoction.  After cutting four slits/pockets into the sides of the cucumbers, they're typically  stuffed, jarred, and left to cure. Fussy. Messy. Nope.

 Cucumber Kimchi.

I sliced 10 Casey County kirby cucumbers into spears before cutting them on diagonals into bite sized pieces.  I brought 4 cups of water to a boil before adding 4 tablespoons of kosher salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar. When the sugar/salt dissolved, I soaked  the cucumbers in the brine for 45 minutes before draining and rinsing the cucumbers.  After thinly slicing 3 carrots, 5 green onions, and a 2 inch nob of fresh ginger into 2 inch matchsticks, I dropped them  into a non-reactive bowl along with the cucumbers.

Spice. The soul of any kimchi.
I tossed the vegetables with 4 heaping tablespoons of Korean red chili powder, 3 tablespoons cane sugar, 3 teaspoons salt, 2 tablespoons shrimp paste, 3 tablespoons Three Crab fish sauce, and 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar.  Because I couldn't help myself, I showered the kimchi with extra fiery chili powder before donning rubber gloves to mix the madness.

After spooning the kimchi into glass jars, I  clamped on the lids and left the  kimchi to sit on the kitchen counter overnight.  The following morning I slid the kimchi  into the refrigerator to cure for three days.

Here's the deal, the cucumber kimchi could have be eaten right away. By allowing it to ferment or cure for a few days, the vegetables had time to macerate and release their juices into the spicy blend,  creating deeper layers of  flavor.

Originally, I'd planned to serve the kimchi as a fiery cooling accouplement to spicy braised chicken feet. It didn't happen. A wee inner voice told me not to pull the trigger on that delectable treasure....just yet.

For snacks, I topped our kimchi bites with white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, and snipped fresh chives.

Spiked with biting garlic, peppery ginger, and sweet carrots, the spicy  Korean red pepper juice coddled the innocent squeaky fresh cucumbers into fiery wet morsels.  Crisp. Sour. Spicy. Sweet.

Cucumber kimchi.
Quick pickles with a slow burn.

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