Pickles: Korean Style
Kimchi is synonymous with Korean cuisine. It’s the most distinguishable dish that sets Korean food apart from any other Asian cuisine. What is kimchi? In short, it’s a pickle. Not just any pickle though; it’s the garlicky, chile-laden cousin of the kosher dill. Koreans eat kimchi at almost every meal. Traditionally kimchi needs days, even weeks to ferment. It is the fermentation that gives kimchi its distinctly sour taste.
There are many varieties of kimchi. The most popular vegetable used is napa cabbage. The national Korean dish has hundreds of varieties made from radish, scallion, or cucumber as a main ingredient. Each type of kimchi has these essential ingredients: garlic, chili powder, ginger. It is this combination along with the fermentation process that gives kimchi its famous taste.
Cucumber kimchi is my favorite. Every year my mother plants several cucumber plants that gift her with hundreds of cucumbers. This year I decided to branch out an try a new spin on cucumber kimchi. Traditionally cucumber kimchi also includes Buchu (garlic chives) and fish sauce. I like both in my kimchi, but in my version I leave them out. Although I love the traditional version, I wanted a quick version that did not require a long fermentation process ( I know…I hear the collective gasp of every Korean right now) and the strong flavors of the fish sauce and garlic chives. I was looking to create a type of quick pickle…more like a cucumber kimchi salad.
Did I mention that kimchi is good for you? It is! It’s low in calories and contains immune and digestion boosting probiotics; thousands more than the yogurt. It’s the fermentation process that increases the probiotic growth. Although my recipe can be eaten immediately, it will still ferment on the counter or in fridge.
There are specific ingredients needed for all types of kimchi:
Korean Red Chili Flakes (Gochugaru). This is what gives kimchi its fire power. I think is has a distinctive taste. If you do not have an Asian grocery store nearby, you can order it online on Hmart or Amazon. In a pinch, you can use crushed red pepper (the kind you sprinkle on your pizza).
Fresh ginger. You should be able to find this in the produce section of your grocery store. It’s even sold ground up in a squeezable tube.
Fresh garlic. Please, not garlic powder…get a few cloves. You can even buy the pre-minced kind (I won’t judge).
- 8 oz of Pickling Cucumbers (like Kirby)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 scallions,chopped
- 1 Tb of finely chopped fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tsp of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Korean chili powder (or crushed red pepper)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 cup of carrots (matchsticks)
- Slice the cucumbers,about 1/8 inch thick. A mandoline will make this easier. Put the cucumbers in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with the kosher salt. Let stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes.
- While the cucumbers are marinating in the salt, combine the garlic, scallions, ginger, vinegar, chili powder,soy sauce and sugar in a glass bowl.
- Drain the cucumbers and discard the liquid. Mix the cucumbers into the vinegar mixture and add the matchstick carrots.
- Let the mixture stand for about 15 minutes, mixing a few times to thoroughly marinate before serving. You can also cover and refrigerate for 12-24 before serving for a stronger flavor.
Give it a try! It goes well especially well with a pork BBQ sandwich…yum!