Monday, January 21, 2013

K is for: Kimchi {quick cucumber kimchi}

I first met Cindy ten years ago while working for KRTV in my hometown of Great Falls, MT. I was just starting my career as a sports reporter, while Cindy was an aspiring weather and news anchor. While she could totally rock a green screen and a news desk with the best of them, Cindy found her true calling behind the camera as a photographer.

I could go on for days about her talents...but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so just do yourself a favor and check out some of her awesome work here and here.

One of the things I adore and admire about Cindy is her positive attitude and her infectious energy. However, those were both put to the ultimate test last year when her mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Cindy and me sporting our short haircuts in the KRTV news room circa 2003
I would venture to guess just about anyone reading this post has, in some way, been affected by this awful disease. As we know, cancer has no compassion, no boundaries, no promises. The only thing you can do is face it head on and cherish the time you have with loved ones. Like everything in her life, Cindy has done this with passion and grace. She has made a point to spend as much time in Texas with her mom, taking her to appointments, standing by her side, and as Cindy puts it...making every day count.

If you follow Cindy on instagram, you know that part of these special moments included learning some of her mom's Korean recipes. I've been wanting to make kimchi for awhile now, so I decided to take this opportunity to feature Cindy and her mom and dedicate this post to their entire family.

As you can see by my comment, I was under the impression that kimchi is normally made with cabbage. While this is true, I learned that there are several variations of this popular Korean side dish, including cucumbers and radish. And while days or weeks of fermentation is necessary for certain types of kimchi, this particular version can be eaten right away.

Let's talk for a second about ingredients. Living in San Francisco, I'm lucky to have several Korean markets at my disposal. First, you'll need some of these small pickling cucumbers (though I'm sure regular ones would do in a pinch). I grabbed five of them. The recipe calls for "leeks," which confused me at first because in Cindy's photo, they looked more like green onions. After a quick google search, I found out there is such a thing as Korean Leeks. They are sort of a mix between green onions (scallions) and both taste and appearance. I'm guessing you'll have to go to an Asian market to find try subbing a combo of scallions and chives if you can't find any.

You also need some chili powder. This is what gives kimchi its signature red hue. If you can, Korean chili powder, or gochu galu, is preferred here. It's a little smoky, slightly sweet, and pretty spicy. 

Not much English on the packaging in the Korean market. Luckily, one of the guys was nice enough to help me. I had originally picked up a small container in a different aisle, to which he informed me was not the right stuff for kimchi. He also seemed slightly amused (I prefer to think impressed) that *I* was making kimchi. He led me over to a separate section that had various 1 pound and even 2 pound bags of the stuff. I tried to express that I really didn't need *that* much. He explained he normally makes very large portions and still tried to sell me on the bigger bag. I instead settled for an 8 ounce jar (which was still a lot), though I suspect the bags would've been the fresher option.

The final key component is the fish sauce, which will help give the kimchi that umami taste. As I know from the Asian Chicken Noodle Soup I like to make when I'm sick (my first ever post!), this stuff is salty so you don't need a whole lot, and you won't need much additional salt, if any. The nice Korean man helped me to find this as well...which was a good thing, considering my only clue that this was fish sauce included a small photo of fish on the back. (Gotta be authentic...that's how I roll).

You can cut the cucumbers in spears if you like, but I decided to do small pieces since that's what Cindy did in her original instagram post. Also...she couldn't remember if her mom salts the cucumbers, but I noticed several recipes online called for this so I did. I salted them with kosher salt, let them sit for about 20 minutes, and then rinsed them under cold water and returned them to the bowl (use a non-reactive one like glass or stainless steel). While the cucumbers are sitting, you can prep and mix together the remaining ingredients.

Pour mixture over the cucumbers and thoroughly combine. You can use your hands...but be sure to wear gloves as it stains. (Since I was doing a smaller batch, I just used a wooden spoon). 

*Note...Cindy's recipe calls for sesame seeds. I didn't realize I was out of them, so I didn't add them, but will definitely do that next time.

I think this kimchi is best enjoyed right away but you can also store in your refrigerator in glass jars. I love the combination of tangy, garlicky, spicy and umami tastes in this refreshing and healthy side dish. Enjoy it on its own or alongside rice or any Korean dish (or in a burrito a la HRD!) It's loaded with vitamins and helps with digestion so eat as much as you like! Thanks to Cindy and her mom for sharing this lovely recipe. It's an honor to feature them on the blog and my thoughts and prayers go out to them in this difficult time.

Quick Cucumber Kimchi

by Jaymee Sire
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Keywords: side appetizer condiment low-carb low-fat cucumber fish sauce Korean chile kimchi Korean

  • 5 small pickling cucumbers, cut in small wedges
  • 2-3 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 bunch of Korean leeks, minced (or sub a combo of scallions and chives)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh, minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup Korean chile powder/flakes
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  1. In a non-reactive bowl, toss cucumber with salt. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Then rinse with cold water and return to bowl.
  2. While cucumbers are salting, mix together the remaining ingredients.
  3. Pour over cucumbers and mix thoroughly. Enjoy immediately or store in glass jars in the refrigerator.
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  1. Jaymee! You are offically half-Korean! I'm blown away and deeply moved by your beautiful words, photos and friendship. It's a true honor that you featured my mom's quick cucumber kimchi recipe. Through my tears, I'm laughing trying to picture how cute you looked shopping for all the ingredients in the store. I'm sure the Korean guy got the biggest kick out of it! Trust me - EVERY Korean out there LOVES it when Americans eat Korean food. But for you to actually MAKE it? That's just plain awesome. It also made me laugh that I couldn't remember if my mom uses salt in the beginning or not. That's because her recipe is always changing a bit through the years. Sometimes, there's a little salt. Sometimes, no salt at all. That's the beauty of creating dishes with your heart, soul and what your taste buds are craving at the time. Like a true cook, you improvised when you didn't have sesame seeds. Thank you Jaymee for putting your love into one of our family's all-time favorite foods. Kimchi sisters for life! Kamsamnida (thank you) ~ Love, Cindy

    1. CINDY!!! First of all...go to bed! ;) Just kidding. I love you and thank you for welcoming me into the Korean family. What an amazing honor to feature your family's recipe. It was so special and I hope to highlight more of your mom's fabulous recipes in the future. Sending gigantic hugs and kisses your way!

  2. Hi Jaymee, I saw that Cindy had a little blurb about you and that your a food blogger. I wanted to connect with you, I'm a food photographer/blogger here in Great Falls. I'm always amazed at how the blogging world connects. Here's a link to my photography site (which links to my blog) BTW, I'm going to a conference in SF the first week of April so I'll be in your area. And your photos and recipes look great!

  3. Hi Rhonda! Great to connect! Sadly, I'm moving to CT next week so I will have just missed you. Looking forward to checking out your site!


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