This cucumber kimchi recipe is a cinch to make. You combine small, crisp cucumbers with green onions, garlic, fresh ginger, and plenty of chili for a distinctly fresh side dish that's brimming with bright flavors. It tastes delicious and has a gorgeous, crunchy texture that makes it a great match for grilled meats and fish - especially in the summer months.
What is cucumber kimchi?
Cucumber kimchi is a lightly fermented Korean vegetable side dish. Like kimchi made with cabbage or daikon radish kimchi, it's made with a bit of salt and seasoned gochugaru (Korean-style chili powder), garlic (or garlic chives), ginger, and other ingredients.
The cucumbers are crisp and juicy with a delicate sweetness that's balanced by the heat of chilies. A short fermentation period (often only a day, if at all) gives the kimchi a delicious, light acidity. It's similar to Asian Cucumber Salad in its freshness and flavor profile.
There are two types of cucumber kimchi, including oi kimchi and oi sobagi. The primary difference between the two versions rests in how you cut the cucumbers. For oi kimchi, cucumbers are typically sliced crosswise into thin rounds, and you then season them.
For oi sobagi (stuffed cucumber kimchi), cucumbers are typically cut crosswise into spears (leaving one end intact, similar to how you make preserved lemons). After cutting the cucumbers of oi sobagi, you typically stuff them with your seasoning ingredients.
Stuffed cucumber kimchi (oi sobagi) is typically fermented longer than oi kimchi, although the fermentation period still remains shorter than required for many other fermented vegetable recipes.
What's in it?
The ingredients for cucumber kimchi are fairly simple. Cucumbers form the foundation of the recipe, while a variety of ingredients which typically include chili pepper, alliums, carrots, and sometimes ginger provide the seasoning.
In addition, you'll often find that cucumber kimchi recipes also include Korean fish sauce or salted shrimp which give the kimchi a savory, umami note. Further, many recipes also call for sugar which provides a counterbalance to the salt and chili while also accelerating the fermentation process.
- Cucumbers are the foundation of the recipe. Traditionally, you would use Korean cucumbers (oi) which are slender, thin-skinned cucumbers with a pale, silvery green color. This variety of cucumber is relatively difficult to find outside of Korea, although you may find it in specialty stores during summer. Substitute any thin-skinned cucumber, Persian cucumbers and cocktail cucumbers work particularly well.
- Salt not only seasons the cucumbers, but it is an essential ingredient in almost all fermented vegetable recipes. If you can, avoid iodized salt which can give a metallic flavor to ferments. Minimally processed sea salt works well in its place.
- Chili gives kimchi its characteristic heat. Gochugaru is a Korean-style coarsely ground red chili powder made from seeded, sun-dried chilies. It has medium heat (although it can vary from mild to hot) and a sweet, smoky flavor.
- Alliums include garlic, onions, and chives. They have an irreplaceable sharp sweetness. Traditionally, cooks use garlic chives to make cucumber kimchi; however, if you can't find them a mixture of green onions and garlic work well.
- Carrots are often added to many cucumber kimchi recipes, and they're typically grated or very finely julienned. Carrots lend sweetness to the recipe. Sometimes Korean radish is added in place of or in addition to carrots.
- Fish sauce gives the kimchi an umami-like savory note. Fermented fish sauce or salted shrimp (saeujeot) is a typical inclusion in most cucumber kimchi recipes.
- Fresh ginger either minced or puréed is sometimes added to cucumber kimchi. It has a sharp, floral fiery flavor that blends well with chili.
- Sesame seeds are a great addition, giving the kimchi a toasty note and a bit of texture.
- A sweetener provides balance to the hot, salty, and sour flavors of kimchi. While a small amount of sugar is typically included, sometimes honey or even grated apple are included instead.
How do you make cucumber kimchi?
In this version, you'll start by soaking the cucumbers in a saltwater brine similar to how you make cabbage kimchi. Then, you'll stuff them with a mixture of chili, garlic, green onions, carrots, and ginger, before letting them quickly ferment on your kitchen counter and then age in your fridge for a few days. Making this cucumber kimchi recipe is a relatively easy and simple process.
- Slice the cucumbers by first removing about ¼-inch of the stem end. Next, cut the cucumbers as if you'll quarter them, leaving about ½ inch intact at the far end.
- Soak the cucumbers in a saltwater brine for a few hours. You'll prepare a brine using 1 tablespoon salt to 1 cup of hot water, and then cover the cucumbers allowing them to soak for a few hours.
- Make the filling while the cucumbers soak. Then, when they're finished you're ready to stuff them.
- Ferment the cucumbers and refrigerate them. Remember, this is a very lightly fermented vegetable dish.
Tips to keep in mind
While this isn't a particularly complicated recipe or technique, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind when start making cucumber kimchi. Namely, remember that this is a dish marked by its freshness, and you'll aim to preserve that freshness as best as you can. Also, you'll need to use a delicate hand when cutting and handling the cucumbers, so that they remain intact at one end and you can stuff them easily.
- Remember that freshness is key. Cucumber kimchi is very lightly fermented (if at all), so you want the freshness of cucumbers to really come through.
- Temperature matters. This recipe is typically made during the summer months when cucumbers are at the peak of their season. Higher temperatures speed up fermentation, which is why you'll ferment these cucumbers for a shorter period of time. If you're working in a very cold kitchen and prefer the acidity of fermented foods, you may wish to ferment them longer.
- Be careful when cutting and handling the cucumbers. You want to be able to cut them so that they remain intact at one end by about ½ inch.
- Use gloves when handling the filling as the gochugaru contains capsaicin which is a skin irritant found in all chilies.
Eat it fresh. Instead of fermenting cucumber kimchi or letting it age in the fridge, consider eating it fresh as a side dish on a summer night.
Skip the fish sauce. For a vegan (or fish-free) version, skip the fish sauce and use soy sauce instead. Alternatively, you can swap in some Korean-style fermented soybean paste (doenjang) instead.
For a quick cucumber kimchi recipe, slice the cucumbers thinly cross-wise. Then mix them with the remaining ingredients. Next, skip the fermentation process and add a spoonful or two of rice vinegar and sesame oil instead. Eat right away.
Make a kimchi-flavored sour pickle. You can follow the recipe for sour pickles, substituting ginger, gochugaru, and green onions for the dill and pickling spice.
Frequently Asked Questions
This version of kimchi is traditionally made with Korean cucumbers; however, due to limited availability, you can replace them with any small, thin-skinned cucumber such as Persian, Kirby, or Cocktail cucumbers.
The large English cucumbers you find in most grocery stores will work, too; however, you may wish to cut them into 4-inch lengths and remove some of the peel if it is exceptionally thick or if it tastes bitter.
Properly fermented, cucumber kimchi should keep up to 1 week in the fridge.
Store the kimchi in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid in the fridge. The cucumbers should stay submerged in their brine to prevent spoilage.
Cucumber kimchi only needs to ferment for up to 1 day (and some cooks eat it right away or allow it to sit out only for a few hours). By comparison to sauerkraut and sour pickles, which ferment for an extended period of time, kimchi tends to be fresher and requires less time to ferment.