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I like to joke that I'm a bad Korean. I don't watch Korean soap operas, listen to K-pop or even crave Korean food all that much. My friend Matt (not Korean), frequents the Asian markets here more often than I do.
But today, I pretend I'm a good Korean. And I offer you cucumber kimchi, a side dish I've always enjoyed but never thought of making, until now. It never occurred to me that I could make kimchi — spicy, fermented vegetables, typically cabbage — without breaking my back.
I shamefully turned to the Internet instead of my mother for this recipe because I needed exact measurements and precise explanations, not the usual "Oh, just taste as you go and add more if necessary" instructions that come from just about every expert home cook around.
Kimchi isn't for everyone, but in recent years, Korean food has gained favor in the United States. It's the next cool ethnic food thing. There are long lines at Asia Dog, a vendor at the Brooklyn Flea in New York City that sells kimchi hot dogs and bulgogi (sweet, marinated beef) burgers, and Korean-American chef David Chang, with his crazy, Korean-inspired food, is one of the most well-respected young chefs out there.
So. In the height of summer, when you've got too many cucumbers growing in your garden and can't fathom eating even one more pickle, you might give this dish a try. I was surprised by how easy and delicious it was.
The recipe calls for a couple of items that you can only find at Asian markets. One is gochugaru, which is a Korean red pepper powder, made of ground dried (hot) red peppers. (Once mixed with any kind of liquid, this pepper powder will stain any plastic bowl or container you have, so choose your prepping bowl and storage container carefully.)
The second mystery item is something called buchu, or Asian chives, or garlic chives. I wasn't in the mood to go hunting for special chives, so I just used green onions (scallions), with no ill results.
10 kirby or pickling cucumbers (mine were each about 5 inches long and about 1½ inches in diameter), washed
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup buchu (Asian/garlic chives), chopped into about half-inch long strips
1 medium carrot, julienned or cut into matchsticks
1 cup onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Quarter the cucumbers lengthwise while leaving them attached at one end.
In a large bowl, rub salt on each cucumber inside and out. Let cucumbers sit for 20 minutes, flipping them over halfway through.
Rinse the cucumbers in cold water a couple of times. Drain and set aside.
In a non-staining bowl, incorporate all the ingredients except the cucumbers. Mix well.
Use your hands* to stuff the pepper paste into each cucumber, rubbing some on the outside of the cucumber as well.
Store in a lidded container and let it sit out on the counter for a day or two. It'll start to smell and taste a little sour. Check the kimchi daily and taste to see at what point you're happy with the flavors that fermentation imparts. When the kimchi is done to your taste, stick it in the fridge.
*Koreans use these disposable thin plastic gloves especially designed for making kimchi (otherwise, the pepper paste smell on your hands is hard to get rid of), but if you can't find any, just pull some clean plastic bags over your hands.