My former next door neighbor was a Korean immigrant who, like most, spent one morning each week preparing homemade kim chi in his backyard. I suspect he washed, chopped, mixed and fermented his cabbage and chili peppers in the yard due to the sheer volume of greens he processed and to the sinus-blasting potency of the spices. When I went outdoors, my eyes watered from the chilis and I was yards away!
But kim chi is eaten at practically every meal in the traditional Korean household. The Japanese love pickled vegetables (tsukemono), too, but their versions are not nearly as hot or spicy. Most are salted, vinegared or fermented and the few that are spicy are not hot enough to burn the tongue.
Cucumber Kim Chi is a favorite type of tsukemono. Making cucumber kim chi is easy, and because the cucumbers are cut into small chunks, they pickle quickly and can be eaten within a day or two. Use Japanese cucumbers (kyuuri) or Persian pickling cucumbers, not regular English cucumbers. The seed portion of the English variety is too large and the flesh too watery to make good pickles.
There are different ways to make kim chi. Some methods call for you to boil the brine and pour it hot over the unpeeled cukes. Others have you salting and draining the sliced cukes before adding the cooled brine. This step pulls the water out of the cucumber flesh so it will absorb more of the pickling brine.
But one of the best ways to make Cucumber Kim Chi, I’ve found, is very simple. Chop the pickling cucumbers into 1-inch chunks and mix them with dry seasonings. Let it stand for 12 hours unrefrigerated and then refrigerate for two or three days. This works well because the salt in the seasoning mixture draws out the cucumbers’ natural juices which mix with the chili seasonings and becomes the brine. This method retains the crispness of the cucumbers better than the other methods of making cucumber kim chi as they tend to wilt them.
Cucumber Kim Chi
1 lb. Japanese, Persian or pickling cucumbers
1 Tbsp. coarse sea salt (Hawaiian or pickling salt)
1/2 Tbsp. white sugar
2 slices fresh ginger
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1-3 Japanese red chili peppers, cut in half
1 tsp. ajinomoto
Wash and cut the pickling cucumbers into 1” chunks. Place them in a large glass jar. Mix the remaining ingredients and add to the cucumbers. Cover with lid and turn the jar until the cucumber chunks are well coated with the seasonings. Let this sit for 12 hours on the countertop then refrigerate for two or three days, occasionally turning the jar to toss the contents of the jar to let the bottom cucumbers sit in the accumulating brine.