Fermentation is My Friend

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!


Filed under Preserving, Snacks, Vegetarian

9 responses to “Fermentation is My Friend

  1. Virginia

    I have to say, this was a great batch of cucumber (oi) kimchi. You do have to be willing to have your fridge smell like kimchi, though. You could certainly cut the recipe in half and plan to eat it all when it’s ready. I think this stayed in my fridge for maybe 3 weeks? It was great by the time Katie got to try some after being on travel for several weeks! I prefer my kimchi really sour, so the longer it sits the better!

  2. Kim

    When would you shred the cucumber if you wanted it that way? I am used to it shredded…just curious! Thanks SO much for the photos…helps a bunch!

  3. asharpknife

    Damn that looks good. I’m gonna try it as soon as I get my hands on some nice little cucumbers…surprisingly difficult to find here in the UK for some reason. Just wanted to add that I’ve eaten kimchee with and without fish sauce in, and really couldn’t tell the difference, the spices and the sourness produced by the fermentation are absolutely enough to produce all the pungency you might want in a pickle.:) So if you’re vegan, veggie, or if fish sauce just grosses you out, I think you should rock on without it, maybe upping the spices a tad to compensate?

  4. You forgot to list the amount of chili paste. And what kind? From fresh chilis? Is that in addition to the korean chili powder? I want to try this recipe. Ive made wonderful kimchees before. This one looks great!

  5. Thanks, good clear information and pictures really help. Just finished a batch. Seemed like it need a fair amount of water to submerge, but hopefully they are not going to be diluted.

    • Thanks for the compliments, Alan. Your cucumbers may have been larger than the ones I used. I don’t think it will be diluted with the addition of more water. Check back and let us know how it goes…

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