This is the most recent kimchi recipe in my collection, and, most of all, a short report on my recent vegetable – or rather a fruit – discovery. A week ago I saw Armenian cucumbers for the first time in my life. I had never tasted them before, the shop assistant either, but they were locally grown and organic, so I was even more tempted. First, avoiding risks, I served half of it as a simple side-dish with vinaigrette and it was so good, I decided to try the remaining part in kimchi. Freshly made and after four days, it was particularly crunchy, refreshing and perfect for the summer heat, but I am also sure that, contrary to standard cucumber, this one might keep crunchy for long months…
Armenian cucumber (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus), also known as snake cucumber or serpent cucumber, is apparently closest to muskmelon, but also related to standard cucumbers. As its name suggests, it apparently originated in Armenia but nowadays is cultivated in many countries, such as USA or Japan. (From what I have noticed online Japanese uri look a bit different and all have smooth skin, though probably share the same texture and flavours) Armenian cucumber is less watery and much crunchier than any standard cucumber variety (the texture is closer to a small young courgette). It has a very thin skin which makes peeling unnecessary (though I never peel cucumbers anyway) and, though its taste bears some resemblance to the cucumber, its flavours are more delicate and it’s much crunchier. I already see myself experimenting a lot with this new summer discovery, so I hope I’ll be able to see it on sale more often!
For those who have never heard of kimchi (김치), it is a preparation of fermented vegetables with dried chili peppers and other seasonings and has a very long history, though chilli was added only in XVIth century. (In fact, there exists also a “white” kimchi version, without chilli). Apart from the chili, garlic, ginger and scallions are the most frequent seasoning ingredients. It also always contains a fermentation “enhancer” such as fish sauce, raw shrimp, raw oysters or fermented fish.
Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated with anything unpleasant. It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetables, very healthy. Apart from being served as a side dish, kimchi (matured one) is used in fried rice, stew and soups.
Many vegetables can be made into kimchi, but Napa cabbage is the most popular and from my experience it can be kept in the fridge even for a year. I have already prepared daikon (white radish) kimchi, celery kimchi, white cabbage kimchi and cucumber kimchi which is my number one in the summer because it’s refreshing and particularly good when young, i.e. one or two weeks old.
If you don’t have Armenian cucumber, you might like one of these versions of kimchi:
TIPS: If you make kimchi for the first time, make sure you find Korean chilli flakes. Powdered chilli of any other origin will not do here unfortunately. You probably won’t have any problems finding the remaining ingredients (I use Thaï fish sauce, which is available in practically all the Asian shops).
If your kimchi grows mould or has an weird smell after fermenting (though sometimes to recognise it you must be familiar with the normal kimchi smell…), it means the container is not airtight. Apart from special kimchi containers, I strongly recommend Lock&Lock containers, which are airtight, keep for years and are BPA free. They are available all around the world, I think (I buy them online though).
This kimchi is quite versatile: it can be eaten straight away as a kind of spicy side-dish or fermented for two days and kept for a long time in the fridge (see below).
Do not peel Armenian cucumbers. The skin is very thin, delicious and probably packed with fibers.
Carrot is optional. I add it from time to time. Toasted sesame seeds are also optional. You can add them while preparing kimchi or just before serving.
Preparation: 45 minutes + chilling time or, if you ferment it, minimum 1 week
500 g (about 2 lb) Armenian cucumber
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1-2 teaspoons garlic (grated or crushed)
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3-4 heaped tablespoons Korean chili flakes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 green onion stalks, cut into 2 cm pieces
(1 small carrot, julienned)
(toasted sesame seeds)
Cut the cucumber in two lengthwise. Remove the seeds with a special spoon or simply scratch this soft part with a spoon. Then cut the pieces once more in two lengthwise and then into thick slices.
Sprinkle the cucumber pieces with salt and leave them for 30 minutes.
Drain the cucumber, but do not rinse it.
Add all the seasoning ingredients and combine with the cucumber.
Wait for 20-30 minutes and serve straight away (chilled) or leave for two days in an airtight jar or other non-reactive container to ferment in room temperature and then keep in the fridge for months.
If you decide to ferment them, after placing the cucumber mixture in a container, rinse the bowl in which you have mixed it with about 100 ml water and pour it over the tightly packed cucumber chunks.