Oi kimchi. I made it. This weekend. While visiting my parents for Labor Day.
Ok, fine. My mom made the kimchi. But I did my fair share of washing, chopping, and general prepping. I also took photos. Ok, fine. My sister took most of the photos. Check her out at I Heart Woo.
Oi Kimchi. Oi, pronounced "oh-ee" ("oh" as in "voracious" and "ee" as in "teepee"), means cucumber in Korean. Just one of an endless variety of Korean kimchis, and a simple one at that. Oi kimchi is meant to be eaten fresh, i.e. you don't let this stuff ferment like Napa cabbage kimchi. Makes sense-you don't want the cucumber to get mushy, with its high water content.
So I said oi kimchi was simple to make. True, but let me add a few qualifications:
1. I can't give you a recipe. Not my mom's recipe, at least. I tried, but "about this much garlic" and "just guess" just don't translate into recipe lexicon. [I remember hearing about this woman who followed Asian grandmothers around, trying to record their recipes for traditional dishes. I admire that woman so much more now.]
2. On that note, there is no perfect recipe. There's no "secret ingredient." It's all about adjusting a standard combination of flavors to taste. Trust me, bulgogi tastes delicious, whether you make your marinade with white sugar, pear juice, or (my mom's latest experiment) blueberries.
3. Good Korean food tastes, well, Korean. Obvious, but I think this point is worth making, given all the adulterated bulls*** I see in LA. I guess I'm close to being a Korean food purist.
Don't make things complicated. Before you reach for the tortillas and weird condiments, just try a recipe using the basic called-for ingredients. You would think that there are only so many variants of the same ingredients that you can taste, but that would be oversimplifying Korean cuisine (or Chinese, or Thai, etc.).
4. The closest thing to a perfect recipe is your mom's home cooking. It's the food of your childhood, the food you love most. You go on to try other kimchis, but none of them tastes like the one you grew up with.
Good Korean food is more than just food. I know, you're rolling your eyes. But it's true. Something is transmitted, from cook to eater, something that hits your gut. And that's why my favorite Korean food is my mom's. Because it's the only food that makes me happy at first bite, without fail.
So, no, I don't a recipe for you today. But you don't really need it!
It starts with a crate of Korean cucumbers (soh-bae-gee). Yes, you read correctly: A CRATE. When I asked the staff at the Korean grocery store for a box, they didn't even bat a eye. DIY preservation, sans the hipster/artisan element.
First, you triple wash the cucumbers. See how they are straight and relatively short? Perfect for kimchi. I had to go to a Korean grocery store to find these, but you can probably substitute other cucumbers.
Oi kimchi should be consumed fairly quickly, unlike other fermented kimchis. So we set aside most of the cucumbers for a quick salt pickle. These little guys are waiting to be covered in boiling salt water. The salt bath will be repeated a few times over three days, when the cucumbers will be ready for a rinse and a slice, to be eaten like other Korean banchan.
But back to the kimchi. You trim the cucumber ends, slice them in half, then cut cross-sections into each half (keeping them intact).
The cucumbers are then tossed in very coarse sea salt.
Then you triple rinse and finely chopp a s*#@ ton of buchu. According to Wikipedia, buchu is garlic chives. It looks a bit like grass, it's oniony in scent and flavor but milder than green onion. You can find it at a Korean grocery store or, if you're like my mom, you can toss it in the backyard and wait for it to grow.
Ok, now time for the fermented shrimp.
The shrimp gets blended with a ton of garlic. Not literally a ton. Just enough to raise an eyebrow.
It's the smelly stuff that makes the kimchi taste so good.
The paste is combined with the chopped buchu.
Then in goes a generous amount of gochukaru, which is Korean red chili pepper powder.
Combine until you get a paste.
And now you get to work. Real Koreans sit on the ground. Rookies like me wear plastic gloves.
Using chopsticks to pry open the cucumber halves, you stuff them with the pepper paste mixture and line them up in a ready container.
Voila. This will sit for a day before being put in the fridge. Or, if you're bacteria-phobic, you can just stick it in the fridge right away.
Photos by Winner Celebration Party and I Heart Woo