Salty…spicy…crunchy…subtly sweet. Mmmm… I really enjoy eating kimchee. Kimchee (or kimchi) is a Korean dish of fermented vegetables. Luckily, my friend Virginia is willing to make it and share her recipe for cucumber kimchee with me.
I understand that kimchee is not for everyone. Some folks don’t like the heat of the spice. Some folks don’t like the smell. I suppose that it could be the fish sauce, but it adds the necessary umami flavor. (What is umami? It is a Japanese word for savory, one of the five basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.)
It could also be the fermentation factor that turns some people off the dish. I think fermentation is fascinating, though. I do not fear the bacteria. And not just because I enjoy beer and other alcoholic beverages. The ancient person(s) who discovered how to cultivate yeast or helpful bacteria to create delicious foodstuffs deserves a place in our history books. I, for one, am very grateful. There is a character in the food world, Sandor Katz, who writes about fermentation and teaches folks how to make things like sauerkraut. He likes to say, “that without culture, there would be no civilization.” Of course, he means bacteria cultures, not just art and stuff.
Now, go cultivate some bacteria. Mmmm…
Virginia’s Cucumber Kimchee
6 to 10 smallish unwaxed, thin-skinned cucumbers (pickling, Kirby, or Korean)
1/4 cup salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup shredded carrots
2 Tbsp sugar
Glass container(s) tall enough to hold the cucumbers upright with lid
Wash cucumbers, and trim the ends. The cucumbers need to be sliced to expose the center, but stay whole. Stand each cucumber upright on your cutting board and slice through the center down almost the whole length, but stop before you cut all the way through. Rotate the cucumber and repeat the slice in a perpendicular direction.
Fill a large bowl with water. Add the salt and let it dissolve.
Fully submerge the cucumbers in the salt water for 30 minutes.
You may want to put a plate on top to keep the cucumbers under the surface of the water.
While the cucumbers are soaking, make the stuffing. In another bowl, combine garlic, chili powder, fish sauce, carrots, and sugar. Mix well.
After about 30 minutes, remove the cucumbers from the salt water. Don’t rinse them.
Fill each cucumber between the connected pieces with spicy stuffing, and place them in a glass container next to each other. Virginia often uses gloves when she fills the cucumbers so her hands do not smell like fish sauce for days on end.
Once you’ve used all the stuffing mixture, don’t rinse the bowl. Add one to two cups of water to the bowl so you can get the last of the spice mixture and then pour it over the cucumbers. They should be almost submerged.
Cover with a tight-fitting lid and store at room temperature for at least 12 hours. (Sometimes Virginia leaves it on her counter for about 18 hours.) Then, move and store in the refrigerator.
Cucumber kimchee is good by itself, but I also enjoy it with rice or as a garnish for other dishes. We even like it on hot dogs!