Updated on July 21, 2011: Please note: Cucumber kim chi is best refrigerated and enjoyed right after making it. You can allow it to ferment before refrigerating as you would with cabbage kim chi, but because cucumbers tend to go soft a lot quicker than cabbage, it’s best to think of this dish as a crisp, refreshing salad/side dish. Enjoy!
One of the joys of Korean cuisine is having a number of healthy and yummy side dishes to eat along with each main course.
Kim chi – fermented, spicy cabbage – is easily the most celebrated Korean side dish.
Few non-Koreans know that hundreds if not thousands of varieties of kim chi are made throughout Korea. Makes perfect sense, of course, since you can make kim chi out of most varieties of vegetables.
Why should you consider eating kim chi now and again? It’s a tasty way to give your body a number of nutrients that come with raw vegetables, including those found in raw garlic.
Combine raw garlic, plenty of enzymes, and a long list of antioxidants with the probiotics that come with naturally fermented kim chi, and you have yourself a true superfood that provides a powerful strengthening effect on your immune system.
Here’s a look at how my mom makes cucumber kim chi, which has long been one of my favorite dishes…
Start with about 15 to 20 small cucumbers, the kind that are used to make dill pickles. If you can’t find small cucumbers, you can use about the equivalent amount of large cucumbers.
Give the cucumbers a good rinse, then chop them into bite-size pieces. Put them in a large bowl, add about two flat tablespoons of sea salt, and toss well.
Allow salted pickles to sit overnight at room temperature, or at least for a couple of hours. The salt helps draw moisture out of the cucumbers, which creates a natural brine.
Now add 1/2 to 1 full teaspoon of minced raw garlic. We use raw minced garlic that we keep in a small container in the refrigerator.
Wash and chop up three green onions – not three bunches, but three individual ribs. Not sure if they are called ribs? Cords? Hope this is clear.
Add chopped green onions to the mix.
Don’t you love seeing all this green? The green onions add texture and natural sweetness to this cucumber kim chi dish.
For a little extra sweetness, chop up 1/4 of a small to medium yellow onion.
And add it to the mix.
If you’re worried about the sharp bite that raw onions have, stop worrying right now. Once given a day or two to naturally ferment, the onion loses most of its sharpness. But it doesn’t lose any of its flavor, so unless you really have something against onions, go ahead and add some.
Now the part that makes any kim chi a real, authentic kim chi: add two flat tablespoons of fine red chili flakes.
I don’t know whether to call this red chili flakes or powder. It’s not really a powder…the flakes are really fine. Koreans call it ko choo kah rhoo, which literally means ground hot peppers.
If at all possible, please get some of this stuff from a local Korean grocery store so that you can be sure that you have the right kind for making kim chi. You can add ko choo kah rhoo to any number of dishes, of course, like miso soup and seasoned green beans. Koreans add ko choo kah rhoo to just about everything.
Did I mention that ko choo kah rhoo is extremely rich in vitamin C?
Now add a teaspoon of vinegar.
Next, put on a pair of gloves (to protect your skin against the heat of the ko choo kah rhoo) and give everything a good toss. Here’s about what it should look like when you’re done tossing:
Oops, forgot to add a little extra hint of sweetness. Just a tablespoon of honey will do, please.
You can actually add the honey before the first good toss…we just forgot.
Here’s a good look at the glorious kim chi brine that is naturally created as you go through the steps in this recipe.
Once the kim chi cools down in the refrigerator, this brine is a real treat on hot days. Just one spoonful after a meal makes you feel like everything is going to be okay.
Now pack your cucumber kim chi away into glass bottles, and don’t forget to add a bit of brine to each one – just a couple of tablespoons of brine per bottle will do.
Here’s a close-up just before we cap it and put this baby to rest for a day or two.
All that’s left to do at this point is to transfer the bottles to your refrigerator and enjoy small servings as you please. Cucumber kim chi doesn’t typically keep as well as cabbage kim chi, so you can begin enjoying it right away, almost like a crisp, refreshing salad or side dish. It’s best to eat up your batch within two to three days, though if kept refrigerated, it will keep for quite a bit longer, although it will lose its crunch by the day.
Dish some out, just like this, whenever you need a little kim chi to spice up a meal:
And the next time you make kim chi, feel free to be creative and try a different cut. For example, instead of chopping the cucumbers up into rough chunks, you can slice them into thinner, longer strips, which look really nice with a bowl of noodles. Here’s what I mean:
For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, one that doesn’t come with pictures, click here:
Cucumber Kim Chi Recipe
For a look at how my mom makes traditional cabbage kim chi, view:
How to Make Kim Chi (Cabbage)
Update on June 10, 2010: If you enjoy Bok Choy, use clean Bok Choy leaves instead of cucumber in this recipe to create mouthwatering Bok Choy kim chi.