Cucumber Kimchi (Oi Sobagi)
There’s just over a week until Paula and I get married!
And there’s still a good three or four weeks’ worth of stuff left to do… Luckily my parents are arriving in California today, so they can help. Then my sister will arrive a week from today, and will promptly bake 255 cookies in my non-air-conditioned apartment to pass out as wedding favors. We’ve got this under control.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been much help with any of the hands-on wedding preparations – no placecard-writing, mason jar-decorating, chalkboard art, or cookie-baking for me, not with my tendinitis/RSI.
The only sign of hope is that my physical therapist finally showed me some wrist-strengthening exercises, meaning before too long I should be out of the inflammation stage and into the chronic stage! Good thing you don’t need to pass a typing test, or be able to hold a laptop (or a drink) with only one hand in order to get married in the state of California. (Actually, being able to hold a drink with one hand might be useful during the reception…)
But enough about a day that hasn’t even happened yet. Instead, let me talk about this recipe which I
cooked up fermented at the beginning of the summer, pre-tendinitis.
To date, I think this is the only recipe on my blog that I have extracted simply from looking back at my travel photos. I’ve gotten recipes from cookbooks, I’ve gotten recipes from other websites, and I’ve come up with recipes by re-creating restaurant dishes that I love, but never before had I looked back at photos – from three digital cameras ago – in which I had carefully photo-documented all of the ingredients to go into a dish, and then just pieced together the recipe from there.
Lucky for me, when I was briefly living in Seoul and taking baby Korean classes, a friend of mine took me to our very own personal kimchi-making lesson, courtesy of her friend’s mom. The three of us spent the afternoon making cabbage kimchi (baechu kimchi) and cucumber kimchi (oi sobagi). And I took a few photos, in between jotting down new Korean words to add to my flashcards and snacking on mandu (steamed dumplings), as we waited for the salt to draw out liquid from the cabbage and cucumbers.
By the way, if you’ve only tried cabbage kimchi, you’re missing out! There are so many more kinds out there – just about as many as there are vegetables. Cucumber kimchi is one of my favorites, and not just because I have the fun memory of learning to make it in Seoul – or because our cabbage kimchi that day turned out WAY too spicy for any of us, while the cucumber kimchi was just right.
Crisp, refreshing cucumbers seem so perfectly suited to soak up and balance out all of that garlic and spice. And the process of salting them first, to draw out the water, keeps them extra fresh and crunchy, even after they’ve fermented in the kimchi spice paste.
Speaking of fermenting in the spices, you could whip this up and stick it straight into the fridge if you wanted to, or you could let it ferment at room temperature for a while first, then move it into the fridge for indefinite spicy cucumber snacking opportunities.
I let my stuffed cucumber kimchi ferment at room temperature for about 24 hours, but that 24 hours posed a bigger problem than I would have imagined. After I layered my stuffed cucumbers into two airtight glass containers, and sealed the lids, I went to place them in the darkest, coolest part of my apartment that I could think of: inside a closet, on top of a dresser, where we keep our small collection of red wine.
As long as I remembered to keep the closet door closed so that the kimchi wouldn’t be hit by direct sunlight in the late afternoon, then I figured it would be fine – that was where I had successfully fermented preserved lemons over the course of a few weeks back in December. But about an hour after placing it there, I happened to open that closet again, and was confronted with the strongest whiff of kimchi since the last time I stepped into a Korean grocery store food court in LA. Unfortunately, that same closet also houses all of Paula’s work clothes, and she did NOT want to have to wash her entire wardrobe of scrubs before she could show up to work not stinking of garlic… So I went into action, pulled the two glass containers out of the closet, and double-bagged them in thick plastic bags, each sealed airtight with a binder clip. When that made no difference, I quadruple-bagged it. And when that made no difference, I was left with the dilemma of where else to put it.
Kimchi is ideally stored in a cool, dark place, of which our apartment is severely lacking. Basically every part of our apartment gets hit by either morning or afternoon sun, or is right next to a heat-producing appliance. (And we don’t have a basement or a garage… but can you imagine if we did? I could store so much more kitchen stuff!)
Paula ended up sacrificing the bottom drawer of her new nightstand, a 2-drawer filing cabinet that her office was throwing away in their move, as a temporary kimchi storage space. And so it was that the kimchi ended up in our bedroom for its 24 hours at room temperature. In sealed glass containers, and quadruple-bagged, and inside a closed file cabinet drawer, you could just barely smell it, unless you were lying down on Paula’s side of the bed.
If it hadn’t been for her putting up with the vague scent of ginger, chile, and garlic for that whole night (and for several nights after we moved the whole operation into the fridge), then we wouldn’t have been able to have our summer of nostalgic, refreshing, and addictively spicy cucumber kimchi. It’s an awesome addition to any array of banchan (Korean side dishes), or during this – the summer of my inability to cook anything – delicious on top of a plain bowl of rice.
p.s. A note about the mochi-ko (aka sweet rice flour, aka glutinous rice flour): this type of rice flour is not actually sweet, nor does it actually contain gluten; it’s just made from the kind of very sticky rice used in mochi-based desserts (I’ve used it before, like in this mochi cake recipe). Its sticky quality makes for a nice, thick rice paste, but you could probably substitute another type of white rice flour, if you’re having trouble finding it.
Print this recipe. (PDF)
Cucumber Kimchi (Oi Sobagi)
(Serves 6-12 as a side dish)
Active time: 45 minutes; Total time: 75 minutes, plus up to 24 or 48 hours fermentation time.
~ 2 lbs. cucumbers (about 12 Kirby or Persian ones, or 6 halved Korean/Japanese ones)
~ about 3 Tbsp. coarse sea salt
~ 2 Tbsp. mochi-ko (mochi flour) / glutinous rice flour / sweet rice flour
~ ¼ cup water
~ 12 oz. (300g) daikon radish, peeled and julienned (about 6″ daikon; to make 1 heaping cup)
~ ¼ bunch (a few) garlic chives (buchu in Korean; nira in Japanese), cut in 2″ pieces
~ 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
~ 2 cloves garlic, minced
~ ⅓ cup kochukaru (Korean chili powder), or to taste
~ pinch of sugar, or to taste
~ ½ cup water
~ 1 tsp. fish sauce (to kick-start the fermentation)
How to make it:
1. Rinse the cucumbers well and slice off the tip of one end from each cucumber (or cut longer cucumbers in half). Then, starting at the cut end, make 2 lengthwise cuts that go about 90% into each cucumber, and which still leave the other end intact, so that all four cucumber spears are held together at one end.
2. Place the cut cucumbers into a colander and sprinkle them generously with coarse sea salt, making sure to get some salt into the center of the four spears of each cucumber. Let the colander sit over a bowl/sink for 30-40 minutes, gently tossing the cucumbers once about halfway through. (This will draw out the liquid from the cucumbers, and make them extra crunchy.)
3. Meanwhile, in a very small sauce pan, combine the mochi-ko (mochi flour/glutinous rice flour) and the ¼ cup water over low heat, whisking constantly until it thickens into a paste. Then remove from the heat and let cool.
4. In a large bowl, combine the julienned daikon radish, the sliced garlic chives, the fresh grated ginger, minced garlic, kochukaru, sugar, ½ cup water, and optionally the fish sauce. Once the rice paste from step #3 has cooled, add that too, and mix together well. Taste-test just a little bit of the mixture, to see if you need to adjust the flavors, by adding more kochukaru or more sugar, for example – it will be quite spicy of course, but it should also taste well-balanced.
5. Once the cucumbers are ready to go, rinse off the salt well, then dry them with paper towels or a clean, lint-free kitchen towel – gently squeezing away any excess water. Using plastic gloves (or a plastic Ziploc bag over each of your hands) pick up small handfuls of the mixture and stuff it into each cucumber, layering them into a glass or ceramic container with an airtight lid. If you have extra kimchi mixture at the end, place it on top and around the cucumbers – you can even pour in a little of the liquid, but it’s not necessary, since the cucumbers will also start to release more liquid as they ferment.
6. (Quadruple-bag if necessary and…) Store the containers in a cool, dark place at room temperature for up to 48 hours before moving them to the fridge, where they will last up to several months. Serve the cucumbers whole, accompanied by a little of their kimchi liquid, as a spicy, refreshing side dish – they are especially good with rice.
Print this recipe! (PDF)
Related recipe posts:
|Kimchi Kimbap and Pickled Cucumber Banchan||Japanese Cucumber Pickles and Soy-glazed Chicken Wings||Korean Banchan: Spicy Sesame Bean Sprouts||Korean Banchan: Kkaennip Kimchi (Perilla leaf kimchi)|