Updated: Nov 17
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I'm a big lover of fermented food. But kimchi is the last thing I learned how to make. Even though I love spicy food, my story of making kimchi on a regular basis started just 2½ years ago. Since then, I've been making different kinds of kimchi, and I love them all.
Today I would love to share with you an easy summer kimchi, called cucumber kimchi.
Korean cuisine has more than one hundred kinds of kimchi, using everything from cabbage, turnips, zucchini, mushrooms, radish, and watermelon skin to pumpkin blossoms in summer. Just like any traditional food in any country in the world, each family has its own kimchi recipe with its own unique flavor. The cucumber kimchi we'll make today is a crisp and spicy side dish that pairs wonderfully with fresh cooked rice. It's a healthy side dish due to the water content of cucumbers, which will help you stay hydrated. This is especially important in summer!
Why Do I Love Cucumber Kimchi?
The unique flavor and health properties and the variety of different vegetables makes this dish delicious and very nutritious. Our microbes need many kinds of veggies; the more the better. It is particularly important to consume them on a daily basis. Every fermented food has different good bacteria. Combinations of veggies naturally create different kinds of microbes. The composition changes depending on the veggies used, timing of fermentation, temperature, etc. 200 strains of good bacteria in kimchi make this food a medicine.
Kimchi was stored underground in large earthenware to prevent the kimchi from being frozen during the winter months. It was the primary way of storing any kind of veggies and some fruits during the cold season. My mom stores her ferments such as sauerkraut, fermented tomatoes, fermented pickles, and fermented apples in the cellar even today.
The basic process is the same: Salt the veggies and let them soak in their own liquid. This way the original flavor is sealed in, and the cabbage will have a crispiness. The combination of spices creates its character. For kimchi, the most important spice is fresh and powdered hot red peppers: Tae-kyung.
What Do Hot Red Peppers Do for Kimchi?
They give the kimchi its biting kick and help preserve its freshness. Crushed garlic, Asian chives, and green onions help with flavor as well. Other flavor-builders include ginger root, Asian pear, and seafood such as salted shrimp or anchovies. Green seaweed may be added to help retain freshness. Fish sauce and salted shrimp are other fermented components in traditional kimchi. They provide that deep, distinct umami flavor that cannot be substituted. At least one of them must be included.
The fizziness you will notice on day 2 is a result of heavy carbon dioxide production in the early stages of fermentation. When the environment becomes more acidic, continued fermentation produces less CO2. A good way to get a fizzy kimchi is to ferment it in a Mason jar for one to three days at room temperature. Then seal the jar and store it in the refrigerator for a couple weeks. Fermentation will continue slowly. The kimchi accumulates trapped CO2. This results in lots of fizz when the jar is opened.
The recipe I offer you today is easy, fun to make, and tasty to eat right away, though for the best health benefits it can be fermented for up two days, then stored in the fridge for up to 6 months. This kimchi can be made with summer squash or zucchini as well. No matter which one you use, it will be delicious!
Ingredients for cucumber kimchi
2 pounds cucumbers for pickling
2 tablespoons Celtic salt
4-8 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, matchstick
1 cup daikon radish, matchstick
1 cup green onions, chopped
½ cup Asian chives, chopped (optional)
1 inch ginger, minced
½ cup hot red chili pepper flakes powder
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
¼ cup water
Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
1. Wash your cucumbers, then cut them in half lengthwise. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and a little bit of water. Let sit for 20-30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare all your veggies by mincing/chopping as needed.
3. Turn the cucumbers a few times while you are working on the veggies.
4. In a bowl add water, pepper powder, sugar, and fish sauce. Mix all together. The paste should look thick and be a bright red color. Add all the veggies and give a good mix.
5. Remove cucumbers from the salty water. Rinsing is not necessary. Cucumbers need more salt to keep their crispness than cabbage does. Add the paste. With gloved hands, incorporate everything evenly.
6. Move into a wide-mouth jar. Press the cucumbers a little bit with your hands. Cover the jar with a lid. Let it sit at room temperature for up to two days, or you can put it in your fridge to keep for up to three months.