kitchen firsts: cucumber kimchi + kimchi fried rice
I hope you will forgive me for going a little Korean crazy these last two weeks. It really would’ve been better to spread the Korean kitchen firsts out a little more over the course of the year, but you see last week I was inspired by the desire to make a tasty burger and the newfound love of gochujang sauce, and then I went to Portland and got an awesome new Korean cookbook at Powell’s and I just couldn’t resist making both the Kimchi Fried Rice and the Cucumber Kimchi right away! Please indulge me, or better yet, jump on board and get some more Korean food into your life!
Kimchi is the sort of thing that used to scare me. Even just the word fermented is kind of scary at first, until you realize that all manner of amazing things are created or enhanced by fermentation (beer, wine, bread, soy sauce, cured meats like salami, cheeses, yogurts, sauerkraut, kimchi…) and you should just go with it, or better yet, start fermenting some things of your own. I’ve been wanting to experiment with kimchi ever since I started the kitchen firsts process, but kept putting it off because I didn’t have a reason to do it right away (or any big jars). Luckily, my new cookbook reminded me that it’s not actually very difficult, so we started amassing the required ingredients for both a daikon kimchi (I’ll post about that later) and the refreshing sounding cucumber kimchi (recipe below).
If making kimchi doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can most certainly buy it. I wanted to make kimchi fried rice (recipe also below) on a weeknight, and hadn’t gotten my act together to make any yet, so we bought some traditional napa cabbage kimchi and used some of it in our fried rice for a quick and easy meal. It’s nice to have a jar of kimchi around in the fridge (whether it’s homemade or not) to use as an accompaniment to any asian meal, and if you have extra you need to use up this fried rice is a fabulous way to do that (other suggestions from my new cookbook include making savory kimchi pancakes, or putting it in Thanksgiving stuffing…yum!).
Without further ado, let’s move on to the recipes. The cucumber kimchi is, I think, a really accessible way to start with kimchi because it’s kind of just like a spicy pickle, and the only exotic ingredients involved are the korean chile powder (which you can get at asian markets or, if you’re desperate, you can use ancho instead although the flavor will be different), and the korean leeks/asian chives, which you can also get at asian markets or swap out for some additional green onions. The prep is a snap, and then 2 to 3 days later you have some fresh kimchi ready to eat. It only makes 2 quart sized jars, and you could even half the recipe if you want, so you won’t have so much kimchi on your hands that you don’t know what to do (lots of recipes make like a gallon of kimchi).
The kimchi fried rice is a really simple but delicious weeknight recipe. I’ve called for pork in the recipe because it complements the kimchi, but you could also use slices of beef or chicken, or leave out the meat entirely. You can also fry an egg or two to serve on top, or scramble some eggs and stir them in as you would with some other fried rices. The ingedient list is short, and provided you have some cold rice ready you can whip it up in less than a half hour without a trip to the store! That’s my kind of Tuesday night.
Adapted from Quick and Easy Korean Cooking, by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
Makes one 1/2 gallon jar, or 2 quart sized jars
1.5 lbs pickling cucumbers (5 cucumbers for us, but their size can vary)
4 cups water
1/3 cup salt
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
small handful (about 15) asian chives/korean leeks, cut in 1/2 inch lengths (or sub 5 green onions if you can’t find these)
5 green onions, cut in 1/2 inch lengths
1/4 cup korean chili powder
1 T coarse salt
mounded 1 tsp sugar + 1/2 cup water
First, cut your cucumbers. Traditionally they are cut into spears like pickles, but I chose to cut half of my cucumbers into spears and the other half into small chunks so I could serve them in different ways. Either way, prepare the cucumbers and then place them in a large bowl. Dissolve 1/3 cup table salt in the 4 cups water, pour the mixture over the cucumbers in the bowl, and allow it to sit for 20 minutes.
Next, mince your garlic, chop your onions, and slice your green onions and asian chives. In a second large bowl, combine the garlic, onions, green onions and chives with the korean chile powder and the tablespoon of coarse salt. When the cucumbers have stewed for 20 minutes, drain and rinse them, and then toss them with the spicy mixture until well coated. If you choose to make some cucumber spears and some chunks like I did, it might be wise to put half the spicy mixture in each of two medium bowls and then toss the spears in one bowl and the chunks in the other, so you don’t have to separate everything out after it’s mixed, but I didn’t think of that and it worked out fine anyway, so you can do a large bowl if you want.
Stuff your spicy coated cucumbers into a clean 1/2 gallon jar, or put half in each of two quart sized jars. Dissolve the mounded teaspoon of sugar with the 1/2 cup water, and pour the water over the cucumbers (put 1/4 cup in each quart sized jar, if using, or all of it over the 1/2 gallon jar). Let the kimchi sit in a cool dark place for 2 to 3 days.
After the 2 or 3 days, open it up to see if it’s ripe– they should be sour and have absorbed the flavors of the mixture. Place in the refrigerator after opening, where the kimchi will last up to two weeks.
Kimchi Fried Rice
Adapted from Quick and Easy Korean Cooking, by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
Serves 2 generously as a main dish, 4 as an accompaniment to another course
2 boneless pork chops, sliced (about 2/3 lb pork)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 T sesame oil
1 T butter
3 cups cold cooked rice
3 green onions, sliced
1 cup kimchi and its liquid (if you want, try a combination of two kinds– maybe half napa cabbage, half daikon kimchi?)
1 tsp to 1 T gochujang (depending on your spiciness preference)
In a large skillet or wok, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. When it’s hot, add onions and pork and stir fry until onions are browning and the pork is cooked.
Add the butter and sesame oil to the pan, and when the butter melts turn the heat down to medium and add the rice. Stir fry for about 5 minutes, or until the rice has heated through and softened back up from its cold dry state.
Toss in the green onions and kimchi, and stir fry for about 2 or 3 minutes until all is combined and heated through.