Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cucumber Kimchee

Raised in Dayton, Ohio Ming Tsai of cooking show Simply Ming spent hours cooking alongside his parents at their family-owned restaurant, Mandarin Kitchen. His passion for food was forged in those early years - gaining valuable experience in both front (house kitchen) and back (restaurant kitchen).

Koreans serve kimchee, a sweet and spicy pickle with almost every meal. Traditionally made with fermented cabbage or turnip and stored in a tightly sealed jar, it lasts forever. I must say that I have tasted cucumber versions of the same at several Korean and Chinese restaurants, and my mother makes her very own kind as well. Tsai’s cucumber kimchi is sweet and spicy with a slight tart pull at the end, thanks to the vinegar and the flourish of fresh ginger. The traditional method involves burying the kimchee to ferment it. With this recipe however you won’t have to dig up the kitchen, since vinegar is used to do the same job.

While Tsai asks for traditional Korean chilli called kucho karu, regular red pepper flakescan be used as substitute, using amounts you are comfortable with. Note: Be very careful about putting unprotected fingers into the mixture, as you can too easily rub your eyes with them, instead, use clean tongs or chopsticks to serve or transfer the kimchee.

Makes 6 cups
Lasts 2 weeks, refrigerated

Ingredients: 6 medium cucumbers, halved lengthwise, and seeded, Kosher salt, 6 cups rice wine vinegar (I substituted with white wine vinegar that I had on hand), 2 cups sugar, 10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, 1/4 cup fresh ginger matchsticks, 3 medium red onions, halved and cut into 18-inch slices, 1 cup shredded carrots, 4 tbls Korean chilli flakes (kucho karu), or 2 tblsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 cup Thai fish sauce (nam pla)

Method: Place the cucumbers in a colander set in the sink. Sprinkle the cut side of the cucumbers generously with the salt. Allow to rest at room temperature until the cucumbers have exuded liquid, about 2 hours. Rinse the cucumbers, dry them well, and slice them into 1/4-inch-thick half moons. Set aside. (I preferred cutting the cucumbers into thin, long strips which were prettier in terms of presentation.)

In a large, nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and onions, bring to a simmer, and remove immediately from the heat.

In a large, nonreactive bowl, combine the cucumbers and carrots. Pour the vinegar mixture over them, add the chilli flakes and fish sauce, and toss well.

Correct the seasoning with salt. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and cover with plastic wrap. With a paring knife, punch a few holes in the plastic wrap and place the bowl in a cool, dark place. Let the mixture pickle for 24 hours. Transfer the kimchee to a tall glass jar or jars and seal tightly. Use or refrigerate.

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